The distraction of the July 31 trade deadline is inevitable, Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
Rumors will make their way into the clubhouse.
"There's a number of people that are involved and the players are typically going to pay attention to some of the websites that might carry some rumors," Farrell said on Thursday.
But in the two weeks until the deadline comes and goes, Farrell said he understood that there will be some uncertainty in the clubhouse with the team weighing possible moves.
After the Sox parted ways with veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski earlier this month, players immediately started bracing for changes. Pitcher Jake Peavy quickly acknowledged the rumors swirling about the possibility of the Sox dealing him.
General manager Ben Cherington said the team was still sorting out whether it will be buyers or sellers at the deadline.
"Time will tell," Farrell said. "I'm not privy to every conversation Ben has. This is a busy time of year for the entire industry. So I'm sure there will be additional rumors continuing to grow, but until we know something concrete, our job is to maintain our focus on the field each and every day with the intent to win each and every night."
Farrell made it clear, though, that even with the Sox sitting in last place in the AL East, the moves they make don't necessarily mean they're waving the white flag for the season.
"No one has given up anything," Farrell said. "No one has conceded anything. But we also have been in the game long enough to know that over the next two weeks names are going to start getting bantered about."
Shane Victorino played for the PawSox Thursday, going 2 for 4 with one strikeout in their 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Bison. The plan is for him to play back-to-back games before being activated.
"Preferably nine [innings]," Farrell said. "But back-to-back appearances, that's where we'll start."
Victorino landed on the DL May 24 with a hamstring strain but had a setback in June with back issues.
Will Middlebrooks will restart his rehab assignment on Friday in Pawtucket. Farrell said, ideally, Victorino and Middlebrooks would return to Boston at the same time. Middlebrooks went on the DL on May 17 with a fractured right index finger, but he jammed his left wrist sliding into third base last week in a rehab game with Pawtucket.
Middlebrooks was able to finish the game and said the injury wasn't serious.
"It wasn't like I thought I hurt something," Middlebrooks said. "The next day it was pretty sore. We were just cautious about it."
Middlebrooks will focus primarily on third base. Plans to have him test the waters in the outfield have been shelved for the moment.
Coming off a nine-inning, three-hit, 12-strikeout performance against the Astros in his last start before the break, Clay Buchholz will get a chance to pick things back up when he pitches Friday against the Royals.
In four starts since coming off the DL in June, Buchholz is 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA, 23 strikeouts, and just one walk.
"If we go off of his most recent start, it was efficient, it was powerful, very consistent with [last year before Buchholz went on the DL]," Farrell said. "What we've seen since he's come off the DL [this season], there's been steady improvement in each of the four starts he's made."
The difference-maker, Buchholz said, has been his changeup.
"Just coming off my last three starts, I felt really good physically," Buchholz said. "In the Chicago start, that's when my changeup felt like it was coming back and it was the third pitch I threw the other night and it felt really good, too."
The Sox come out of the break heavily scheduled for the AL East, with 38 of their final 66 games played within the division. With the Sox 9½ games behind the first-place Orioles, Farrell said the games carry extra weight. "That's not to add pressure," Farrell said. After this weekend's three-game set with the Royals, the Sox play their next 13 games against division opponents . . . When the Sox let go of Pierzynski and called up catcher Christian Vazquez, the understanding was that his skills behind the plate were ahead of his skills in the batter's box, but in three games Vazquez is 5 for 11 (.455) with three doubles and five RBIs. It raised the question of whether Farrell would consider playing David Ross less. "I'm not going to say it couldn't happen," Farrell said. "But while Christian's doing an excellent job in the games he's caught, David Ross, he has a valued role on this team and makes a large impact." . . . Assistant general manager Mike Hazen remains in contention to become the next GM of the Padres. Hazen is one of four finalists along with Yankees assistant Billy Eppler, Rangers assistant A.J. Preller, and MLB executive Kim Ng . . . Former Sox lefthander Rich Hill signed a minor league deal with the Yankees and will report to Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. . . The Red Sox signed 29th-round pick Josh Pennington for $90,000, according to Baseball America.