An encouraging MRI taken Monday has St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha on a throwing program that could lead to a return to the rotation as early as September.
Wacha hasn't pitched since June 17 because of a stress reaction in his right shoulder. The 23-year-old is 5-5 with a 2.79 ERA.
"It showed that he has been healing," Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said of the MRI. "I don't think you're going to be able to take a picture of (Wacha's shoulder) this year and it's ever just going to be clear. But the doctors and the medical staff were at a comfort level to allow him to take that next step.
"As long as there's nothing that shows up in (the next) two weeks based on his throwing program, he'll just keep moving forward."
Wacha will have another MRI on Aug. 18.
"If all looks well based on that MRI, he'll be cleared to go," Mozeliak said. "But he will be pushed as if he's got the green light at this point. ... He may see mound work before that. We'll take it day by day, but right now, there's a lot of optimism."
Mozeliak said Wacha has been using his time on the disabled list to strengthen his lower body.
"It's been an ongoing process," Mozeliak said. "He's been working on his lower half, to strengthen and try to take stress off his upper body. For the last six weeks, that's exactly what he's been doing.
"We're really encouraged about where he's at in that way. I think from a pure physical standpoint, he's probably as strong as he's ever been. ... It's not like starting from ground zero."
Mozeliak said coming back as a reliever could pose more problems for Wacha than resuming his career as a starter.
"A lot of times, people feel when you're dealing with injuries, getting hot multiple days in a row is more difficult," Mozeliak said. "From that standpoint, it might be less stressful as a starter."
How the Cardinals use Wacha, said Mozeliak, "may be based on need and it may just be where he's at physically."
"But according to what doctors said (Monday), they feel (he can be) a starter if needed. So that's what he will be trained to do."
The Cardinals' rotation is full, with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Justin Masterson and Shelby Miller. Wacha could be called upon to pitch and thus provide an extra day of rest for any of the other starters.
Kelly vs. Miller
The 7:15 p.m. game Wednesday will be like no other for Miller and recently traded Joe Kelly, best friends who will oppose each other on the mound for the first time.
Miller joked that he would hook up with Kelly after the game Tuesday nigh and tire him out for Wednesday by playing video games into the wee hours.
The trouble with that, of course, would be that Miller also would miss out on the rest he needed.
"We'll probably hang out sometime in this series," Miller said. "We'll probably go out tonight and go party and stuff ... No, we'll probably hang out after (Wednesday's) game."
It will be Kelly's first start for the Red Sox. That alone is enough to make it stand out, but the fact that it's against the Cardinals only adds to the emotional aspects.
"It will be different," Kelly said. "I'm excited to pitch. It's been a week since I pitched. I'm excited to get the first one in there and go out there and compete. I'll try not to let any outside factors be involved and just go out there and pitch.
"There will be some (emotions) there. But you've just got to go out there and try to minimize them and focus on the task at hand."
On pitching against Miller, Kelly said: "I'll try not to hit him."
Kelly doesn't know whether he will hold the advantage over the Cardinals hitters or whether the hitters will own the upper hand.
"I don't think there's such a thing as an advantage of knowing hitters or a pitcher knowing you," he said. "If you make a pitch, you're going to do well. If you don't make a pitch, you're not going to do well. It doesn't matter if they've ever seen you or they've see you a million times."
Jon Jay made his first start in center field in a week.
Jay, who had missed five games with a sore left hand, batted eighth against Rubby De La Rosa.
Peter Bourjos started every game missed by Jay and was 2-for-15 (.133) with one double and two RBIs.