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Clay Buchholz says back feels better

BOSTON -- Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, who is out with a lower-back strain, tossed a 30-pitch bullpen session Monday afternoon at Fenway Park, and according to manager Terry Francona it was "night and day" compared to the right-hander's last attempt late last month in Philadelphia.

Buchholz said afterward that his arm felt good and there was a little soreness in his back, but it went away after stretching.

"It felt better," Buchholz said. "There was still a little soreness after I threw, but I sat down for about 10 minutes, did some stretches and it felt better, so that's the biggest step in the right direction so far in this process."

Three days ago, Buchholz said he was frustrated by what he felt was a slow recovery. Now, he's talking about getting back soon.

"I think it's going to take a couple of starts to get back in there," he said, expecting a stint in the minors when he's cleared to pitch. "I'm 80 percent now. It's hard to pitch like that in the big leagues. That's what the Double-A and Triple-A starts are for."

He will play light catch on Tuesday and is scheduled to throw another bullpen on Wednesday.

Buchholz, who has been on the disabled list since June 17, played long toss on Monday before throwing a "short box" session where the catcher sets up in front of the plate. If he progresses, he'll throw a normal bullpen on Wednesday.

"The ball comes out of his hand great," Francona said. "If you watched him throw you would never believe that he's missed time. The ball is exploding out of his hand. He felt a little stretching (in his back) which is a lot better than feeling pain. It'll certainly be interesting to see how he bounces back (on Tuesday)."

There's still no timetable on his return, but if everything continues as planned, Buchholz believes he'll need a few minor league rehab starts before rejoining the Sox's starting rotation.

Buchholz, a key part of Boston's rotation last season, has made just 14 starts, going 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA. Last year, he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, pitching with discomfort in his lower back for a good part of the second half of the season.

"I've pitched with pain before," he said. "It's just a muscle that got pulled. If I can get it better and pitch like I did the last part of last season, that's what I'm going to do."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.