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09/16/08 7:27 PM ET

Drew's back, but not all the way back

Injury keeping outfielder's productive bat on the sidelines

ST. PETERSBURG -- Back from Georgia, where he had been for the past several days following the death of his grandmother, Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew was maintaining cautious optimism when discussing his problematic back, which has kept him out of the lineup since Aug. 17.

"Somewhat better, you know? I had that injection before I left [for Georgia] and found out the news," said Drew. "I had a pretty sore day Saturday, but Sunday seemed to feel pretty good. I hate to jump the gun on anything, but I'm going to try to hit in the cage in a little bit. I went out and shagged some fly balls and felt pretty good. It doesn't seem to be as bad, so we'll see how it goes."

This injury has been a true test of patience for Drew and the Red Sox. Every time that it seems like he is making progress, there is a setback.

Obviously, time is running short for Drew to prove to himself and the Red Sox that he is healthy enough to be on the roster for the American League Division Series, which would begin on either Oct. 1 or 2.

"Again, we're trying to figure out how to handle this," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I could give you a lot of different explanations. We're working through it. We're going to try to give him enough physically that he can handle that doesn't take him too far. What that is, we kind of have to listen to him and [the trainers]. Again try to give him some with not too much. That's kind of where we are."

Drew's latest target for returning is the weekend series in Toronto against the Blue Jays. But what makes those targets so iffy is the unpredictability of the injury itself.

Drew is hoping the latest cortisone shot he took will alleviate some of that untimely discomfort.

"It's been so tricky," said Drew. "You'll have a good day and feel pretty good and hit well and run well, and then 30 minutes later, can't hardly walk. Like I said, I don't want to jump the gun and be redundant, but I do want to take some swings, run around, just see how it reacts.

"I was kind of at my wit's end when I went in there to talk to Tito on Friday, before I found out anything about my grandmother. I tried to hit on the field that day and just felt terrible. We got with the doctors just to figure out something to get some relief as far as the vicious cycle of feeling decent, taking some swings, feeling terrible."

Even though the turf at Rogers Centre in Toronto might not be the greatest venue for Drew to return from a back injury, he knows that time is running too short to be picky.

"Well, it is artificial turf, and I think it takes its wear and tear on everybody. But yeah, you have some hesitancy to that, but you've got to realize, you've got to push ahead regardless," said Drew. "We're at the end of the year. It would be nice to get back out there on the field regardless of its on turf or at home. Try to get some at-bats and see if we can get things going."

Before the injury, Drew was an important piece of Boston's offense, hitting .280 with 19 homers and 64 RBIs.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.