Bailey's return drawing closer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jacoby Ellsbury? Check. Carl Crawford? Check.

Andrew Bailey? Getting close enough to envision the day he, too, returns.

Bailey was acquired from Oakland in the offseason to succeed Jonathan Papelbon as Red Sox closer, but has yet to pitch this season after tearing a ligament in his thumb in spring training, then sustaining a recurrence of the forearm strain that sidelined him for 52 games in 2011.

But on Sunday in Tropicana Field, Bailey threw a 20-pitch bullpen, is scheduled to throw another Wednesday in Fenway Park, and then will be re-evaluated. He probably will be asked to throw a simulated game or two, but after that, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll be sent out on a rehabilitation assignment.

And when that happens, he says, he doesn’t expect to require the full 30 days before he will be ready to rejoin the Red Sox.

“Usually it takes just six or seven games, do a back-to-back,’’ he said. “I don’t know how long that takes -- a week, a week and a half?’’

Bailey is reluctant to project a potential target date. “You’ve got to go through the process,’’ he said.

But he is highly encouraged by the progress he is making.

“Everything felt great,’’ he said Sunday. “Today, we increased intensity and volume.

“I’ll be ready to go pretty soon. That’s the most frustrating part, when you feel good and you’ve got to go through the process. But I’m feeling good and that’s the most important thing. I just can’t wait to get back.

“I’ve been itching since April 1. All that forearm tightness and stuff is behind me, and I’m looking forward to getting back.’’

Bailey had surgery before the 2011 season to remove chips in his elbow, and thus said he was slow to react when he developed a forearm strain last spring, thinking it was natural to experience some discomfort after surgery. This time, when he experienced discomfort in the same area, he immediately sought treatment, which he said has made a difference.

"I caught it early,’’ he said, “and got it out of the way.’’