LAA@BOS: Buchholz leaves game with neck stiffness

LOS ANGELES -- While the Red Sox got ready to play the middle game of this three-game set against the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon, Clay Buchholz packed his bags for a flight back east.

The right-hander is at last ready to pitch in games again, starting with his Sunday start for Class A Lowell in a road game at Hudson Valley.

Buchholz will throw three innings and up to 45 to 50 pitches, the first of either two or three rehab starts before rejoining the Red Sox.

"I thought yesterday's bullpen [session] was the best the ball got out of his hand in any one of the work sessions he's had to date," said manager John Farrell. "If he comes back and pitches as he was, it'd be a great pick up."

Before the right bursa sac strain that has kept him out of action since June 9, Buchholz was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 12 starts.

If Triple-A Pawtucket or one of Boston's other affiliates makes it to the postseason, Buchholz would probably get three starts in the Minors. If not, he will make that third start for Boston -- probably limited to four or five innings.

"If we're limited by options then after this second start, there's always the possibility to bring him back here and have the multi-inning guy right on top of him and continue the progression," said Farrell.

After eight-day layoff, Napoli gets three hits in return

BOS@LAD: Napoli's single gets Red Sox on the board

LOS ANGELES -- Mike Napoli finally resurfaced in manager John Farrell's starting nine on Saturday, and the first baseman swiftly made up for lost time by going 3-for-4 with an RBI single that set up a three-run homer by Jonny Gomes in the top of the first of the Red Sox's 4-2 over the Dodgers.

At first, Napoli was sidelined with a plantar fasciitis injury in his left foot. But on this road trip through National League cities San Francisco and Los Angeles, the issue has been the lack of the designated hitter, which has forced David Ortiz to start at first base.

Big Papi got the day off on Saturday, and with a lefty pitching, it seemed like the right time to insert Napoli.

"My foot feels better," said Napoli. "Everything's fine."

Napoli looked fine on offense and defense, where he made a nifty scoop to end the game after a great diving stop by Dustin Pedroia.

"Yeah, he swung the bat great," said Pedroia. "He's always positive. Even when you have tough times, you never see it in him. It was big for him and hopefully he can build on it. We're going to rely heavily on him down the stretch and into the playoffs."

In truth, it is an injury that could linger for a while for Napoli, if not the rest of the season. The first baseman recently had a cortisone shot.

Though Napoli has spent much of August in a slump, he is adamant that the foot injury has nothing to do with it.

"No, it's mostly running. I don't feel it one bit hitting," said Napoli, who entered Saturday's game batting .146 with one homer and five RBIs this month. "That has nothing to do with anything. Running is definitely the worst part of it. Sometimes in the field, going to first base."

Napoli did play the final five innings of Wednesday's game against the Giants after Ortiz exited with back tightness.

"I got to play a couple of innings here and there the past week and it's felt all right," Napoli said. "The reason why I got the injection was because I was at a point where it was bothering me pretty good. I'm going to go into treatment for every day, like I've been. Try to take care of it as best as I possibly can."

The one thing Napoli will never complain about is playing through an injury.

"It's been feeling better," said Napoli. "I'm trying to take the right steps to get my ankle taped a certain way, my foot taped, doing my treatment. I'm just going to have to grind through it and play through some pain, which I have been already."

Once the Red Sox return to Fenway next week, Napoli will become a fixture in the lineup again, though Farrell will make sure to give the first baseman some downtime.

"I feel like I can be in there every day," Napoli said. "I thought that before and I was doing it. Some days are better than others, but I think I'm pretty tough to be able to grind through some stuff. I'm just going to go one day at a time."

Lackey's comeback from surgery continues to impress

BOS@LAD: Lackey holds Dodgers to two runs over eight

LOS ANGELES -- Although John Lackey has been notoriously victimized by a lack of run support this season, his unimpressive record (8-11) should not overshadow how well he has come back from Tommy John surgery.

Lackey's 3.17 ERA ranks 11th in the American League. The right-hander has also cut down on the free passes, allowing just 32 walks in 23 starts.

"I think we all felt he had a chance to have a big impact for us. But the year that he's putting up, you could make the claim that it's as good a year as he's had in his entire career," said manager John Farrell. "The number of walks issued is the one that stands out to me. And we started to see signs of that in Spring Training.

"You watched him throw his bullpens and in games, he followed the glove well. But to maintain that over the course of the season has been … I think he's had one game where he walked three guys. It's outstanding."

The fact that Lackey also reshaped his body and lost quite a bit of weight has probably played no small role in his resurgence.

"You know, guys react differently," said Farrell. "Some guys pitch better at a certain weight; some others don't. But you know, with John, I think it's clearly allowed him to be more free and loose and athletic on the mound. That, I think, translates to the number of walks he's allowed to date."