08/10/10 7:43 PM ET
Okajima starts throwing program in Toronto
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
The left-handed reliever, who has been dealing with a strained right hamstring, spent the weekend in Boston receiving acupuncture treatments.
"He's here, and he seems in good spirits," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He will start the throwing program today. That's like the 60-90 feet [progression]. Depending on how he feels will determine how quickly he ramps up. I think he's in pretty good spirits, which means, normally, he feels pretty good."
In Okajima's absence, Felix Doubront has been filling the role of Boston's primary lefty reliever. Dustin Richardson is Francona's other lefty.
With clearance, Pedroia to return next week
TORONTO -- Calling it his best day since going on the disabled list with a fractured navicular bone in his left foot, Dustin Pedroia successfully passed all his running tests Tuesday in Toronto.
Pedroia simulated running out of the batter's box, and then he ran in a straight line. The second baseman will graduate to running the bases on Wednesday and Thursday, and he will see Red Sox foot specialist George Theodore on Friday in Boston.
If Pedroia gets clearance from Theodore, he will play for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday and Sunday, and start for the Red Sox next Tuesday at Fenway Park against the Angels.
"I feel like I could be out there, you know, so I just hope I wake up tomorrow and it's not big and I take a step back -- but I don't think it will be," Pedroia said. "I can turn double plays, but the only thing that worries me about that is a guy sliding into me and stuff like that. I'll do the best I can to get out of the way."
Pedroia, who works relentlessly during the offseason to gain the speed that makes him a stolen-base threat, realizes that he won't run quite the same until next season. But at a time when every game is crucial for the Red Sox, he just wants to be able to help his teammates win.
"I know the rest of the way is going to be tough, but we're at the point where we're trying to make a run and make the playoffs -- and try to win the whole thing, if we can," Pedroia said. "I know I'm not going to be as fast as I was earlier in the year, but I'll make that up in the offseason."
The Red Sox will regain one of their best players when Pedroia returns. He is a spark batting in the two-hole and a Gold Glove-caliber defender.
"Today was by far the best day," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It was one of those days where you kind of [improve by leaps and bounds]. I think we hoped that would be the case. Some days it's level, and then you have a day like today."
Pedroia is enthused by the progress he has made over the last week.
"I ran in cleats," Pedroia said. "That was the first time I sprinted in spikes. It felt good. I was kind of surprised. A week ago, I thought I was looking at September. I feel like I'm able to get in there."
But the final answer will come from his session with Theodore.
"I don't think I need to do another CT scan," Pedroia said. "He's going to push on the fracture and stuff like that. If he clears me to go, I'll play Saturday and Sunday [at Triple-A], and then we're off Monday and I'll play Tuesday."
Splitter helps Papelbon regain dominance
TORONTO -- Aside from simply getting a critical save for the Red Sox on Monday afternoon in New York, Jonathan Papelbon showed signs that he can be a dominant force down the stretch.
Though the closer is having a good season, it hasn't been at quite the same level of his first four seasons, when he was an All-Star each year. But against the Yankees, Papelbon displayed the nastiest splitter he has had in some time.
"I've kind of been able to get a feel for it a little bit better here as of late," Papelbon said.
Papelbon still has the mid-90s fastball. But the presence of the split makes it a lot harder for hitters to know what's coming.
"I think it is better," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It's got some power to it, with some depth. I think if you talk to any pitcher that throws a split, I kind of harken back to [Curt Schilling]. It sort of can come and go. When it's there, it's really nice, a pitcher knows he has a way to go. As hard as Pap was throwing yesterday, having that really helps.
"That down [action gives] a different look. It used to be the same with Schill all the time. Schill could be good, but when he didn't have his split, he had to work harder to be good."
In 10 appearances since the All-Star break, Papelbon has an 0.73 ERA while holding opponents to a .122 average.
"I've always tried to take pride in the second half of the season," Papelbon said. "It's always what I prepare for, the stretch run, when I'm going to be needed to go out there and pitch every day."
Catcher Jason Varitek did some more running on Tuesday along with Dustin Pedroia, but he's not as close to a return to action. Varitek is running at low intensity at this point, and he is roughly a week to 10 days behind Pedroia's timetable. ... Center fielder Mike Cameron's lower abdomen has improved since he went on the disabled list on Aug. 2, and he progressed to batting practice before Tuesday's game. Cameron did some tee work over the past couple of days. ... While first baseman Kevin Youkilis (out for the season) wants to rejoin his teammates over the weekend in Texas, the team might encourage him to give himself more time to recover from right thumb surgery and meet up with the Red Sox when they get back to Fenway Park next Tuesday.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.