SAN FRANCISCO — For the first time in more than 10 weeks, Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz stood on the mound and had a batter looking back at him.
The three-inning simulated game Tuesday was played before a small gathering of teammates and coaches at AT&T Park. But it represented significant progress for Buchholz as he returns from the shoulder injury that derailed an All-Star season.
“It was good to finally see some hitters. You feel like it’s competition,” said Buchholz, who threw 46 pitches after warming up in the bullpen. “I felt fine throwing.”
Buchholz faced teammates Xander Bogaerts, Mike Napoli, and David Ross. He improved over the course of the outing, particularly with throwing strikes with his secondary pitches.
“I threw everything today and everything was good,” Buchholz said. “The spin on the [breaking] balls was fine and the changeups and everything were good. It was good to throw that. It was good to face those guys.”
Buchholz is at a point where he’s regaining his arm strength and command. He’s not concerned with his shoulder, which had a strained bursa sac and a sore trapezius muscle at various times.
“I got over that hump,” Buchholz said. “Today was a good day.”
The next step for Buchholz will be a bullpen session in Los Angeles on Friday followed by a minor league rehabilitation start on Sunday.
Manager John Farrell suggested that would be for Single A Lowell. The Spinners play at Hudson Valley that day. The Red Sox would prefer Buchholz face off against increasingly better levels of competition in his comeback.
According to Farrell, Buchholz would need two or three minor league games to build up enough endurance to rejoin the major league rotation.
“We’re looking at three initially then evaluate where he’s at at that point,” Farrell said.
A three-game rehab stint would return Buchholz to the Red Sox on or around Sept. 9.
“It’s taken a lot longer than I wanted it to or expected it to,” Buchholz said. “But if everything keeps going as everybody wants it to go, my body’s going to be well rested and I’ll be able to help these guys and our team make a push toward the end of the season and get to that postseason.”
Once the rosters expand on Sept. 1, Farrell said the Red Sox would be comfortable bringing Buchholz back after two minor league starts because they would have a deeper bullpen.
Zito back on bump
The Giants will start lefthander Barry Zito Wednesday after placing righthander Chad Gaudin on the 15-day disabled list with carpal-tunnel syndrome. Zito is 4-8 with a 5.34 earned run average. His last start was on July 30.
San Francisco also designated outfielder Jeff Francoeur for assignment. He was signed on July 9 after being released by Kansas City but hit .194 in 63 plate appearances.
The Giants recalled lefthander Mike Kickham and righthander Jean Machi from Triple A Fresno.
Before the game started, the Giants scratched third baseman Pablo Sandoval because of a sore back. Joaquin Arias replaced him.
Thornton on mend
The Red Sox will conduct another simulated game at Dodger Stadium on Friday afternoon for suspended Ryan Dempster to get some work. Lefthanded reliever Matt Thornton also will pitch. Thornton went on the disabled list Aug. 6 with a strained oblique muscle on his left side. He has made quicker progress than was expected and could be activated after that simulated game . . . Napoli (sore left foot) was out of the starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game, but came on to play first in the eighth as part of a double switch. He grounded to shortstop to start the ninth.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.