Red Sox lefty Franklin Morales' last rehab start is Thursday

Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

The southpaw starter/reliever should be back in whatever role Boston needs by at least this time next week.

The Red Sox have been without left-hander Franklin Morales all season long thanks to a back injury, but that separation will soon come to an end. Morales is slated to make his next and final rehab start on Thursday, with the Portland Sea Dogs, after a pair of appearances with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.

The Red Sox will be back from their road trip on Thursday, while Pawtucket will be heading off on the road. That left Portland as the logical destination, as they're wrapping up their series against New Hampshire on that day. What isn't quite clear is what Morales' role will be when he returns. Manager John Farrell has said that they wanted to keep him stretched out as a starter so as to use him in that role, but they would only use him there if they needed to, because they don't want to bounce him back-and-forth. If the need had come in the bullpen, he would already be up.

The obvious spot for him would be in Felix Doubront's stead, but Doubront is pitching Tuesday -- they don't line up. They could make it work if that's the idea, though, by having Morales skip a turn and either throw a few innings in relief to stay loose or just put in the work off the field, installing him in the rotation late next week if Doubront fails to impress in the two starts he would have left.

Morales was a big-time starting pitching prospect back with Colorado, but injuries and a lack of patience from the Rockies led to a bullpen role. Morales doesn't quite have the velocity he used to, but his breaking stuff has moved better since leaving altitude, and he posted a 4.14 ERA with a strikeout per inning and 2.6 K/BB last year in nine starts, his first since 2009. If he could replicate those numbers in 2013, Boston's rotation would be that much stronger -- even with Doubront on board, their collective ERA is nearly half-a-run better than the league-average.

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