Two years ago, Clay Buchholz paid little mind to a stiff back for three turns through the rotation before finally missing a start. By then, though, a seemingly innocuous injury had morphed into a complex stress fracture that sidelined him for three months, ended his season and nearly scared him to death.

Suffice to say, Buchholz never wants to go through anything like that again.

And so, given the soreness in the trapezius muscle on the right side of his neck, not far from the balky AC joint that recently caused him to miss a start, Buchholz isn't in a hurry to make his next start Friday night in Baltimore. He hasn't done any throwing since leaving his last start in the seventh inning Saturday night, and according to manager John Farrell, Buchholz' between-starts bullpen session with be "pushed back a couple days at a minimum," indications that he will be at least pushed back if not skipped entirely in the Red Sox' rotation.

"I feel better right now than I did before my last start, like as far as the soreness. I think that's a big step in the right direction for me," Buchholz said. "Again, I told them that I'd rather take care of this now. If that's pushing a start and mixing and matching a little bit, then we'll go with it that way."

If Buchholz is unable to pitch Friday, the Red Sox would have to turn to Triple-A Pawtucket, where Alfredo Aceves was slated to pitch Monday in Syracuse before the game was postponed by rain. Top pitching prospects Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa also could be candidates for a call-up, with Webster not scheduled to pitch until Thursday and De La Rosa until Friday. As it is, because Felix Doubront and Buchholz both started games last Saturday in a doubleheader at Fenway Park, the Red Sox will need spot-starting lefty Franklin Morales to step into the rotation for Wednesday night's series finale here against the Rays.

Buchholz is 9-0 with a league-leading 1.71 ERA, and if the All-Star Game were played tomorrow, he'd be the most deserving candidate to start for the American League. But the lessons of two years ago seem to have resonated with him.