Wakefield's return date still unknown

Wakefield's return date still unknown

TORONTO -- Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield feels well enough to pitch, but his return date is still up in the air. Wakefield, who initially strained his lower back and then developed a nerve issue in his left calf, said he would see a back specialist before rejoining the Red Sox's rotation.

"I doubt I'll go Thursday. I could, if they needed me to," Wakefield said. "I feel like I am [ready], it's just up to whether or not they want me to go."

Wakefield, who is 11-3 with a 4.31 ERA in 17 starts this year, made his first rehab start on Saturday, pitching 3 2/3 innings for Triple-A Pawtucket. He allowed two earned runs, struck out three batters and walked one. He has since rejoined the team and threw a bullpen session before Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays.

"I'm going to talk to a back specialist and see what his opinion is, looking at an MRI. The strength is coming back, but it's very slow. I feel like I ran on the treadmill today a lot better than I ran a week ago," Wakefield said. "Earlier today I threw the ball well, without any hesitations.

"The next step is just deciding whether I should go out there and try to pitch, or maybe more rehab, or wait another week and see if it gets better and then try from there."

With the Red Sox in the thick of a playoff race, manager Terry Francona would like to add a boost to his rotation -- right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka is also on the disabled list -- but is hesitant to put Wakefield back on the mound before the pitcher is ready.

"This is a tough decision to make because we all think he can help us on the mound," Francona said. "But there's some other issues involved, like fielding your position. Is he going to get weaker? Is he going to hurt himself in another area? So we'll do the best we can."

Both Wakefield and the Red Sox also have bigger worries.

"I think the biggest concern that the Red Sox have is, am I going to hurt myself for the rest of the season and the rest of my career?" Wakefield said. "I think that's the big question mark and I need to sit down with the doctors and decide whether or not that's going to happen."

Francona said Wakefield could need to go under the knife, but couldn't say when.

"We all know what's wrong with him," Francona said. "At some point he's probably going to need surgery. If he has the surgery this week, we're probably not going to have him available next week. We're trying to figure out what to do."

George Kottaras, who has been catching Wakefield this year, is also on the disabled list. Victor Martinez -- who has never worked with a knuckleballer -- caught Wakefield's bullpen session on Tuesday.

"I think he has the hands ... to catch me in a game," Wakefield said of Martinez.

Martinez said bullpen coach Gary Tuck had given him some pointers.

"He gave me a lot of good tips to catch Wakefield," Martinez said. "[Today] they said it moved more than it usually moved, but I thought it was OK.

"The main thing is just relax and it'll probably be chance. ... I want to do my best. We'll see what happens."

Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.