BOSTON -- The Red Sox's outfield has been in flux for a majority of the season with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford sidelined with injuries, but the pair is nearing a return to the field.
Crawford, who has a sprained UCL in his left elbow, has progressed to taking batting practice. He's not been cleared to throw, but that's next in his recovery process.
"Probably the end of this week is what the plan was," said manager Bobby Valentine.
Ellsbury, though, is playing catch and has progressed to 40 throws. Out since April 13 with a separated right shoulder, Ellsbury has made strides in recent weeks.
"He's hitting off the tee, he's running the bases. It will be a normal progression barring any setbacks," Valentine said, "but he's feeling great. Eventually we'll have him do real activities, [including] batting practice."
Ellsbury missed his 50th game on Thursday in the series finale vs. the Orioles. Crawford has not played this season.
Boston has used nine different outfielders since Ellsbury's injury, including first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in right field.
Valentine: Beckett's hamstring 'non-problematic'
BOSTON -- Josh Beckett left Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Orioles after eight innings because of a cramp in his right hamstring, but it's not considered to be a lingering issue for the right-hander.
"It seems like it's non-problematic," said manager Bobby Valentine on Thursday. "It was a cramp, and he's working out now on the treadmill."
The right-hander was cruising in the game before cramping in the eighth. After getting the first out of the frame, he limped off the mound and trainers attended to him. Beckett stayed in the game and finished the inning. Vicente Padilla replaced him to start the ninth.
Beckett, who declined comment after the game and again on Thursday, had thrown 92 pitches and would have returned for the final inning if not for the cramp, Valentine said.
Despite allowing two runs on five hits, Beckett became the first Red Sox pitcher to lose while holding an opponent without an extra-base hit in an outing of at least eight innings since Frank Castillo on May 22, 2002, vs. the White Sox.
The Sox have lost four games this year when their starters have allowed two earned runs or less. They lost five such games in 2011.
Beckett's gone at least seven innings in each of his last five outings and is 4-6 with a 4.04 ERA in 11 starts this season.
Situations dictate whether bunts are needed
BOSTON -- The Red Sox executed their 15th sacrifice bunt during the seventh inning of Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Orioles in an effort to start a rally, but the strategy didn't pay off.
After a pair of singles to start the frame, Darnell McDonald bunted pinch-runner Scott Podsednik and Jarrod Saltalamacchia into scoring position. But Marlon Byrd struck out against left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and Mike Aviles flied out to right.
Byrd entered the night hitting .333 against southpaws.
The Red Sox are tied with the Angels for the most sacrifices in the American League this year. It's the most sacrifices in Boston's first 56 games of a season since the 2000 squad also had 15.
Manager Bobby Valentine explained the decision and his position on bunting on Thursday, prior to the series finale with Baltimore.
"I think first and second with no outs with a lot of hitters, it's a pretty good play," he said. "[But with other} hitters, it's a lousy play.
"The personnel, the bottom of the order, will dictate. Guys who can bunt I think sometimes are asked to. Guys who are on base who can advance the base quick enough if there was a bunt and then score on a sac fly, if that's what you're looking for. I think there are lots of things that go into it."
But that doesn't mean Valentine is a big proponent of the strategy.
"I don't particularly like the bunt, but it's a very useful weapon at times," he said. "It keeps you out of double plays. I don't like to give away outs. I don't think it's a great idea. It's great when you're staying away from two outs."
The seventh inning and Wednesday's game could have had a different outcome had Byrd been able to put the ball in play, though.
"If that fastball that was down the middle that was thrown to the next hitter was swung at, I'd bet you we would all be saying, 'God, it would have been great to win that game 3-2.' But it was taken instead," Valentine said.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.