NEW YORK -- When manager Bobby Valentine was named manager of the Red Sox last December, he never envisioned his team would be a game below .500 entering the 100th game of the season.
But despite the struggles and all the injuries, Valentine has an upbeat outlook on the team as it heads down the stretch.
"Well, there's been a lot of stuff going on," Valentine said. "Very challenging, very exciting. This is a great group of guys and I'm glad I'm having the opportunity and I think we're headed in the right direction. We got off to a lousy start there with confusion in our bullpen. We've been about five games over since a bad start in April and I think we can build on that to go to 10, 15 and 20 games over, I think."
What makes Valentine so confident, given that every short spurt of success by the team has been followed by a similar run of misfortune?
"Well, I've seen Adrian [Gonzalez] and Dustin [Pedroia] really hitting their stride," said Valentine. "We went 80 games without them really hitting their stride. They're feeling good. I see David coming back. I see [Jacoby] Ellsbury and Carl [Crawford] in the lineup and I see our bullpen pretty well stabilized and our starting staff feeling pretty good about themselves."
How can Valentine feel good about the starting staff, considering the team is 13-24 in games pitched by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester?
"They're healthy and throwing the ball well," said Valentine. "I believe we have quality people and they're healthy and maybe the balls aren't hit at people or whatever the heck it is that combine to have them not get W's and not do as well as we wanted them to do, and I think that they will because they're healthy and they have quality. That's a lot. This is a team that's come along pretty well. I don't see things going backward."
Papi sheds walking boot, itching to return to lineup
NEW YORK -- David Ortiz arrived at Yankee Stadium on Friday with no walking boot. And once batting practice started, he participated, launching several drives from foul line to foul line.
Sidelined the last couple of weeks with a right Achilles strain, Ortiz and the Red Sox are hopeful that the slugger can return on Wednesday, the first day he is eligible.
"I think he's on pace to back when his [disabled list] stint is over," said manager Bobby Valentine.
Ortiz, who rejoined the team Friday after staying back in Boston for the Texas series, is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"I don't know. Every day is different," said Ortiz. "Every day for me it has been improving. We'll see. If I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go. I want to play."
Missing a series in the Bronx -- where he's had some memorable moments over the years -- pains him.
"Let's not talk about it," said Ortiz.
It's probably no surprise that the Red Sox have struggled to score runs of late without Ortiz.
"It's hard to tell," said Valentine. "We've faced some good pitching and it's hard to tell. You know, David was so on since Day 1 of the season that it's hard to say you haven't missed him. He's pretty good."
Ortiz knows that he'll have to monitor the injury for a while, but he's confident he can play through it.
"It's been a slow process," Ortiz said. "It's something you just need some time off, so probably when I get back I'll probably have to deal with those up and down days. It's fixable -- it just needs some time off."
Bard making strides, could be back soon
NEW YORK -- Daniel Bard, who was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket on June 5 following an ill-fated transition to the starting rotation, could at last be close to rejoining the Red Sox.
Bard hit some initial bumps in his return to the bullpen, plagued by some of the same wildness and mechanical difficulties he had while starting.
But of late, he's thrown the ball well for Pawtucket.
"Yeah, I've kept very close tabs on him," said manager Bobby Valentine. "I've seen him a few times on video. I've gotten a report every game. I've communicated with him a little during the process. I think he's getting close. He's throwing the ball better and better and better. And pitching better and better and better and getting better results. That's where we want him to be."
Overall for the PawSox, Bard is 2-0 with a 7.08 ERA, walking 15 batters over 20 1/3 innings, but he hasn't allowed a run in his last three outings.