BOSTON -- The Red Sox have confirmed that pitcher Clay Buchholz has a stress fracture of the L2 vertebra in his lower back, but a return this season has not been ruled out and the injury is not career threatening.
His symptoms are improving, the injury is stable and it will heal on its own, according to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who was reading from notes given to him by team physician Tom Gill.
"Clay has a stress fracture in his lumbar spine," Gill said in a statement. "He is responding to treatments and his symptoms are improving. We have sent Clay to see three spine specialists, who all agree that the injury is stable and will heal on its own. ... We absolutely expect him to be 100 percent for spring training."
Buchholz will follow a five-step rehab program, "which will progress as his symptoms allow," according to Gill. Once he completes that program he will be cleared to throw, but there's still no timeframe on a possible return.
"The season has not been ruled out," Francona reiterated. "We don't know. If you've seen him pitch, he's OK."
Francona also explained that Buchholz had a "stress reaction" and all three doctors that examined Buchholz felt like it was an old injury.
"They kept telling us to treat the symptoms, which were muscular and he couldn't hurt himself," Francona said. "That's why we sent him so many places."
Buchholz will be re-evaluated after a month of rehab.
"All along they knew something was there, so it was good to go to [Dr. Watkins] and have him be so forward with it and say that it's not a career threatening thing and not even a season ending thing for me, so that's definitely a sigh of relief," Buchholz said. "It's almost been two months and at least I know something's there and I'm not just a big wuss."
Buchholz explained the MRI he had taken on his back last week was the first he's had on an area other than his arm or shoulder. He first felt the discomfort in his back last season but was able to pitch through it, but it got progressively worse this season until he suffered the reaction during his last start on June 17.
"God only knows how long that thing has been there," Buchholz said.
Steps one and two of this rehab program will consist of core strengthening. Buchholz can begin playing catch during step three; step four is throwing and step five is back on the mound. During this process, he'll work out four consecutive days and then have one off before repeating the process.
Buchholz said his goal is to be back in time for the playoffs.
"If I can be back earlier I'm going to do everything I can to come back and help this team," Buchholz said. "I want to be healthy doing it. I don't want to be able to pitch one game and then get thrown back on the DL.
"If there was a timetable, the postseason would be where I would want to come back. That makes the most sense to me as far as being able to help this club. Knowing that I can come back late in the season and potentially help this club win and get to the World Series again is what I'm striving for."
Despite what Buchholz is aiming for, Gill said the staff wouldn't let him come back until he was absolutely healthy.
"Clay being Clay, I know he is absolutely determined to try to get back this year, and it's our job not to let him get back until it's safe for him," Gill said. "They [spinal specialists] all tell us this is a safe problem and he won't injury himself more, so once his strength gets to where it needs to be, and more importantly, once he can throw without having pain, we'll let him come back. If there's enough time left in the season, we'll see.
"I think there's absolutely a chance [he can return], I just don't know how big that chance is."
The uncertainty surrounding Buchholz played a key role in the Red Sox trading for left-hander Erik Bedard, who reported to his new team on Tuesday.
"This is a great opportunity, when I jump from last place to first place in a heartbeat," Bedard said. "It's fun. I'm just going to come here and do the best I can -- try to win ballgames and help the team win."
Buchholz tossed a 30-pitch bullpen session on July 25 and felt good after the fact.
"He threw so well and we all got excited, myself included," Francona said. "But he didn't recover very well."
Buchholz then underwent an MRI where the stress fracture was discovered and that diagnosis was confirmed by Dr. Watkins Monday in Los Angeles.
"It didn't feel 100 percent, but it felt 75 to 80 percent and the last 10 pitches I threw them at a pretty good effort level," Buchholz said. "After that was over I was pretty excited, knowing I could pitch with that kind of pain, but the next morning I woke up, it was back to the way it was in Tampa."
After posting a 17-7 record with a 2.33 ERA in 2010, Buchholz was 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA at the time when the injury flared up on June 17.
"I've been frustrated for a while," Buchholz said. "I want to go out there and I want to pitch. That's why I'm here and that's why they gave me the [contract] extension earlier this year to go out and help this team win. For something like this to happen, after last year being hurt for a month with the hamstring, it's frustrating and definitely not something I wanted to have happen."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.