BOSTON -- Injured reliever Joel Hanrahan is optimistic about his chances of pitching at the beginning of next season, but he hasn't given any thought to which team he'll be pitching with.
Hanrahan, who was Boston's closer to start the season, was lost for the year when he underwent Tommy John surgery in May.
Since then he's been rehabbing in Dallas, but the right-hander, who returned to the clubhouse on Tuesday for the first time since the surgery, is still about six weeks from doing any kind of throwing. The first 10 weeks after the surgery went as well as he could have hoped, though, and he thinks he's on track to start throwing off a mound in the spring.
"I hope to be able to throw in some Spring Training games, hopefully," Hanrahan said. "I don't know if that's realistic or not. I'm not a professional at that. The way everything has been going so far, hopefully, I'll be on some sort of mound in Spring Training."
The normal recovery time from Tommy John surgery is about 12 to 16 months.
Hanrahan is eligible to be a free agent after the end of this season, meaning his future is unclear. But whether he'll remain in Boston hasn't even crossed his mind.
"I haven't really even thought about it," he said. "The next thing I'm thinking about is picking that ball up and throwing five feet."
In the meantime, Hanrahan plans to spend more time around the clubhouse. The team has excelled in his absence and had a half-game lead over the Rays in the American League East entering Tuesday's action.
"I just got done talking with [manager] John [Farrell], and I'm going to try to come around a little bit more," he said. "I'm going to go out to Houston, and then kind of work on something like every two weeks, then come back. You know it's been fun to watch these guys. They've been doing a heck of a job. It's fun watching them. A lot of young guys are getting opportunities now, and it's good to see them enjoying it."
Buchholz instructed to take care with his rehab
BOSTON -- Though right-hander Clay Buchholz was pleased to have Dr. James Andrews confirm that there is no structural damage to his shoulder, he also learned that he needs to be careful during the rest of his rehab.
The injury Buchholz has -- a strained bursa sac -- can worsen if he rushes it.
Andrews laid out a best-case scenario for Buchholz in which he might make four or five more starts for the Red Sox before the postseason.
"I'm definitely glad I went and saw him," said Buchholz. "There were five doctors in the room. I did probably three different strength tests for probably three different doctors. ... He said, 'You can get four or five starts for the rest of the season, and hopefully, if we're lucky enough, go to the playoffs and pitch in the playoffs, or you can do it wrong and not pitch at all.'"
Manager John Farrell isn't sure if Buchholz will return before the timetable that Andrews presented.
"I think that's just another way of saying we don't have an exact date," said Farrell. "We have to keep Clay's health first and foremost, which has been the case all throughout this. That won't change. Whatever time is needed, Clay is going to return to us when he's ready."
Though Buchholz might not be able to return quite as quickly as he hoped, he did hear some positive things from Andrews, particularly in regard to his long-term health.
"The strength in my shoulder is as good as it's ever been, really," said Buchholz. "It's definitely a bursa sac strain. That can come from multiple different areas. My rotator cuff MRI looks good, labrum looks good. He actually said being 28 and throwing as many pitches as I have over my lifetime, my shoulder actually looks a lot better than they would expect it to look.
"So that's definitely a good thing, and good news to hear. That takes some weight off my shoulders."
Andrews also gave Buchholz a reference point for when he can go full bore.
"When I get comfortable," said Buchholz. "His one thing was, when I'm at 90 feet and I can crow hop and let the ball go as hard as I want and be OK with it, that's when the light comes on and says, 'OK, you can start throwing off a mound easy and get back into flat ground, sim game, rehab.'"
Tazawa coming up big in big situations
BOSTON -- The role of middle reliever is often a thankless job.
The ninth inning, and the save that often comes with it, contains all the glory.
But Junichi Tazawa doesn't see it that way. He sees the opportunity to pitch the eighth inning -- or any key inning late in a game -- as a promotion.
"It's my first season that I pitched in a big inning," Tazawa said through a translator after Boston's 6-2 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
When Tazawa entered the game in the seventh inning with the Sox holding a one-run lead, it was his 46th appearance of 2013. The 46 outings equal his overall big league total before this season.
The fact is that the Red Sox -- in part due to three season-ending injuries to members of the bullpen -- have often had to rely on Tazawa in tight spots despite his relative lack on experience in them.
That was readily apparent on Tuesday, when he was sent to face the top four batters of a hot Rays' lineup with no breathing room. A misstep could have sent the Rays -- who were just a half-game behind the Sox in the American League East going into the game -- into first place.
But Tazawa was dominant, first striking out Desmond Jennings with a runner on second to end the seventh, then fanning Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria to start the eighth. After Tazawa retired cleanup hitter Wil Myers -- who had homered and doubled earlier in the game -- to end the inning, the Boston offense scored three runs in the bottom half of the frame on their way to victory.
"That inning right there, the last inning he went in there in the eighth, that's the biggest inning of the game right there, because you're going through the meat of their lineup -- guys have been swinging the bat, a couple [of the] guys have hit homers," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "I put my glove down and away, and he hit it right on the spot. ... That inning right there energized us and got us a couple of runs."
After a bit of a slump before the All-Star break in which he gave up five runs in six innings over one stretch, Tazawa has responded with four consecutive scoreless outings, none more dominating than Tuesday's.
"There was a point, probably, three or four weeks ago, where some fastballs leaked back to the middle of the plate, and I think he was overcompensating by trying to cut the ball a little bit to keep it away from right-handers," manager John Farrell said. "As a result, I think, he got in a little bit of a bad habit to be a little bit tentative, and over the past two or three outings, it's been more 'Trust your stuff and be aggressive,' and we're seeing the velocity come back."
Tazawa said that he was a little mentally fatigued during the stretch, but fellow reliever Koji Uehara offered some advice after noticing that Tazawa's arm angle was getting a little low.
The advice, combined with some rest over the All-Star break, did the trick.
"I wasn't physically [tired], but I was sort of mentally worn down, so Koji and all the others gave me some advice that worked wonders for me," Tazawa said.
The Red Sox were grateful the advice yielded positive results on Tuesday. Tazawa was grateful for the chance.
"I'm just gratified that the manager has been using me in that kind of position," he said.
Farrell gives Ellsbury a breather
BOSTON -- Though the Red Sox were fighting to keep first place on Tuesday night against the surging Rays, manager John Farrell elected to give Jacoby Ellsbury a rest.
Shane Victorino batted leadoff and got the nod in center, Daniel Nava hit second and Mike Carp got the start in left.
The reason for sitting Ellsbury?
"These 10 games coming out of the break are looked upon as all of equal importance, trying to find spots for guys and rotate guys through. That's what tonight is with Jacoby," said Farrell.
Ellsbury is a career .235 hitter against the Rays' Roberto Hernandez, who started on Tuesday.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. Michael Periatt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.