BOSTON -- One simulated game, scheduled for Monday afternoon in Cleveland, appears to be all that's separating Scott Linebrink from a highly anticipated return to the White Sox.
Even if all goes well and Linebrink pronounces himself ready by some time in the middle of next week, don't look for the setup man to resume his eighth-inning role any time soon.
"Even when I'm activated and they want me in a game, they're going to be careful," said Linebrink, after throwing a successful bullpen session prior to Friday's series opener at Fenway Park. "Like [White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper] and I were talking the other day in Baltimore, when we had a huge lead, I might come in and pitch the ninth inning, something like that first time out if we have that luxury.
"Certainly, the team's situation is more important than any of my work, and this isn't really the place to rehab. But if they see I have good enough stuff in these simulated games and get out there in a non-pressure situation and able to get through it all right, we can start working my way back into that role I was in. I don't know if I'll be in the eighth inning, but at least being in a spot to contribute to a team."
Linebrink threw 30 pitches Friday, working on his fastball location, in and out, while mixing in changeups and even a few split-fingers. The most encouraging sign for Linebrink and the White Sox was that he felt the best he has when throwing after taking a day off (Thursday) since he started working his way back during this five-week period on the disabled list with shoulder problems.
"Probably for a bullpen setting, this is about the most intensity you're going to get," Linebrink said. "You have to add on the final finish, when you're out there and get the game adrenaline going.
"That's what I'm curious to see, and a simulated [game] might be more intensity, just with seeing hitters there and make your pitches and make your game type situations. I'm curious to see after that how it reacts. That will be a telltale sign."
Both Cooper and manager Ozzie Guillen were highly encouraged by Linebrink's side session. His return could come in the next week, although not immediately back into the role where he previously excelled.
"We could not feel comfortable about that right now," said Cooper of Linebrink working the eighth. "We have to get him back in action first, see how he's doing. I'm not thinking about that right now. Maybe someone else is, but I'm not."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.