Sox righty Smith aimed toward May or June return

Sox righty Smith aimed toward May or June return

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The simple act of throwing a baseball was weird for Carson Smith the first time he tried it after Tommy John surgery.

"It was awkward," said Smith. "I think I had three guys standing back there, trying to hit one of them in the chest. It was tough."

Each day over the last several weeks, it has become more natural.

Smith is nine months out from surgery, which means he could be back in Boston's bullpen by May or June.

In fact, by the second week of March, Smith could throw off the mound for the first time since his season ended last May.

"He's proceeding along the protocol of rehab," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "That puts him on a mound sometime mid-March, early to mid-March, within that timeframe. His throwing program is as designed. There may be some give and take with individual cases, but the throwing program is pretty clear when it's etched out with the progression.

"The final step is the game step. When you get past the physical hurdles, it's the last mental hurdles that you really can't get over until you get in games."

Projected as a key addition to Boston's bullpen last year, Smith's 2016 season essentially didn't happen.

Smith felt that first twinge of pain in his right elbow during a Grapefruit League outing in Jupiter, Fla., against the Cardinals. He tried the conservative path first, avoiding surgery, but pitched just three times before there was no longer a choice.

This time, Smith could almost amount to a midseason trade acquisition for a bullpen that should already be strong.

Look for Smith to still use his patented side-arm angle in his return.

"Yes, that's the fortunate thing," Smith said. "That's one thing we may have had to look at if I wasn't feeling good at this moment, but right now I'm feeling good."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.