Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett on mend

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz took another promising step toward a possible return before the end of the season with what manager Terry Francona termed an "aggressive" throwing session Friday.

"He ended up making 70 throws from 120 feet," Francona said. "It was encouraging that he got out that far."

The next step in Buchholz's progression will be the most significant: throwing off the mound. That's when he has experienced recurring discomfort in his back, which ultimately was diagnosed as a stress fracture. Francona said Buchholz will throw on Saturday, but at less intensity, and it remains to be seen whether he will repeat at 120 feet or throw from the mound. Francona said trainer Mike Reinold and pitching coach Curt Young are mapping out Buchholz's program for the next couple of weeks.

If Buchholz does well, Francona said, his pitching again this season "hasn't been ruled out."

Meanwhile, Josh Beckett, who is recovering from a sprained right ankle, was riding the exercise back Friday and is doing his throwing, Francona said. "He's doing much better," the manager said, though he did not speculate on when Beckett might return.

The Red also Sox recalled reliever Scott Atchison from Pawtucket. "We've been into our bullpen a little bit," Francona said. "We didn't want to get caught short."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.