BOSTON -- The struggles are continuing for right-hander Daniel Bard at Triple-A Pawtucket. Not even the return a couple of weeks ago to his more comfortable relief role has led to much of an improvement.

On Thursday night, Bard produced perhaps his shakiest outing yet, facing four batters and not getting any of them out. Bard came in with runners on second and third and proceeded to hit a batter, allow a two-run double, hit another batter and issue a walk.

In the outing prior to that, Bard didn't allow a batter to reach, and he was optimistic about his progress.

Bard has made 12 appearances since his demotion to Pawtucket, going 1-0 with an 8.78 ERA.

However, manager Bobby Valentine thinks Bard can avoid the plight of pitchers like Rick Ankiel and Dontrelle Willis, who lost their control and never got it back.

Bard went through a similar situation in the Minor Leagues in 2007 and became an elite setup man for the Red Sox for three seasons.

"I have confidence Daniel is going to be just fine," said Valentine. "I guess he had a control problem once in his life and he got over it, and he seemed to get to a very, very high level of performance. I think he'll do it again."

Crawford, Ellsbury not far from rejoining Sox

BOSTON -- While injuries mount in the infield, the Red Sox could get some help in the outfield after next week's All-Star break with the return of Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Crawford was in Boston on Friday and is set to continue his Minor League rehab assignment on Saturday with Triple-A Pawtucket. The left fielder will move up a level from Double-A Portland, where he went 4-for-10 with a triple and an RBI in three games.

Boston hasn't said yet when the two outfielders will be activated, but the club's first series of the second half -- at St. Petersburg against the Rays -- could be a reasonable estimate.

Ellsbury, recovering from a separated right shoulder, is scheduled to play for Portland on Friday night in his second game with the Sea Dogs. On Wednesday, Ellsbury went 1-for-5 and played center field, with Crawford playing left.

"It was good to get back out there in the outfield with him, just to get the feel for that again," Crawford said. "Hopefully we can be playing together soon sometime. He looks pretty good. He got a couple of hits down there and ran down a few balls.

"It's one of those things you don't know until you get there. So I'm just taking it day for day right now -- that's how we're approaching it -- and we'll see. I'd like to get back whenever, as soon as possible, but we'll just have to wait and see."

Crawford is recovering from left wrist surgery and a UCL sprain in his left elbow. He said his elbow still causes discomfort, but not at the plate.

"It's not 100 percent healthy, but I'm able to hit, so I said pretty much whenever I'm able to start hitting the ball and swinging the bat, then I'll play," said Crawford, who has not played in the Majors this season.

With Minor League teams also taking time off during the All-Star break, Crawford and Ellsbury will lose out on valuable playing time.

"We're going to try to get them in games; I'm not sure where," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "There are not games during the All-Star break every day, so they'll play as often as the schedule allows them."

Outfielder Ryan Sweeney, out with left big toe inflammation, began a rehab assignment of his own on Thursday with Portland, going 1-for-4.

Scott Podsednik is the outfielder closest to returning to the Red Sox. He could be activated prior to Saturday's doubleheader against the Yankees, with Boston allowed to expand its active roster to 26 players for each of those games.

"He just got examined today, and he's healthy and ready to go," Valentine said of Podsednik. "We have the extra man for the first time in my life in dealing with that situation, so we're trying to figure out all those options that we might have, and of course he'd be one of them."

Middlebrooks hopes to play before break

BOSTON -- As tempting as it might be to rush back Will Middlebrooks so he can play in this weekend's series against the Yankees, it sounds like the third baseman will, at best, serve as a pinch-hitter over this four-game set.

"There's a chance he could pinch-hit this weekend, maybe even tonight," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Middlebrooks, who's fighting left hamstring tightness. "He's taking batting practice as we speak. I'll go and check him out."

Middlebrooks did some running on Thursday and Friday.

"Will was out yesterday; he ran about 70 percent," Valentine said. "He felt just OK. He ran today. He felt closer to 100 percent, so that's where he is. He's close."

The All-Star break starts on Monday.

"I hope to be back at some point in this series," Middlebrooks said. "That might be pushing it a little bit. We're not sure. We're just trying to keep getting it better and looking to be healthy for the long run."

With Middlebrooks out, Mauro Gomez made the start at third base on Friday for the second time in as many games. Nick Punto played second in place of Dustin Pedroia, who was placed on the disabled list prior to the game.

Buchholz throws in 'pen; July return likely

BOSTON -- The news wasn't all bad for the Red Sox on the injury front before Friday's game against the Yankees. While Dustin Pedroia was officially placed on the 15-day disabled list, there was an encouraging report on right-hander Clay Buchholz, who should be back in the rotation within the first five to 10 days after next week's All-Star break.

Buchholz last pitched for the Red Sox on June 19 before being sidelined with a stomach illness that was diagnosed was Esophagatis, which required a short stint in the hospital.

"He threw a 'pen today; he'll throw another [soon]," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Buchholz. "He's feeling great. After the break, he'll either slot into the first rotation or early in the second rotation, depending on whether we and he feel he should get on the mound and pitch to some hitters before then or not."

In other words, assuming Buchholz makes one Minor League rehab start, he'll probably join the Red Sox during the rotation's second turn after the All-Star break.

"I talked to [pitching coach] Bob [McClure] and [assistant pitching coach] Randy [Nieman] about it," said Valentine. "They felt like a few innings wouldn't hurt anything. I agree. We'll see what Clay thinks. He's throwing well, though."

The main thing is that Buchholz seems to be healthy again after his scare.

"His bullpens have been very good," said Valentine. "His weight is all back. His strength is back."

With Pedroia out, Ciriaco eager to chip in

BOSTON -- The Red Sox welcomed another new face to the clubhouse on Friday. This time, it was infielder Pedro Ciriaco.

Ciriaco was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket to fill the roster spot opened when second baseman Dustin Pedroia went on the 15-day disabled list prior to Friday's game against the Yankees.

While he played 37 games at shortstop with the PawSox, compared to 23 at second base, Ciriaco may be utilized more at second than short due to Pedroia's absence.

"Whatever I can help the team with, I'm happy to do," Ciriaco said. "I feel more comfortable at shortstop, but the last couple years, I've been playing second and third base a little bit. I'll just do my job wherever they put me."

In 64 games with Pawtucket, Ciriaco hit .301 with four homers, 21 RBIs, 14 steals and 41 runs. He played in 31 games with the Pirates over the last two seasons, going 13-for-39 with two triples.

Ciriaco impressed Boston coaches during Spring Training this year with a .419 average, a .444 on-base percentage and a .651 slugging percentage in 26 games.

"I think he's a good little player; we'll see how it translates up here at this level," said manager Bobby Valentine.

The Red Sox will play a doubleheader on Saturday, and Valentine said Ciriaco would start one of the games.