BOSTON -- Perhaps overshadowed a little by the dominance of Daniel Bard in the setup role, Jonathan Papelbon is also turning in a strong season, showing far more consistency than he did a year ago.

In his sixth season as Boston's closer, Papelbon is 4-0 with a 3.35 ERA. Opponents are hitting .224 against him, and the righty has converted 24 of his 25 save opportunities. In 45 2/3 innings, he has 62 strikeouts and just eight walks.

"I think he's done terrific," said manager Terry Francona. "He's had a couple of outings where he's given up some runs, and it's elevated his ERA. But he's been way more closer to the Pap we saw his first year or so. He's commanding his fastball, with some finish on it, and throwing the split. He's been terrific."

Bard has had several outings in which he's recorded more than three outs, which has allowed Papelbon to focus on the ninth inning.

"I think it's real helpful," Francona said. "Because of Bard's efficiency, it's allowed Pap to do that. You can't do that if a guy is laboring or fighting his way through innings, but Bard has been so efficient that we're able to do that, and bring him back the next day."

Lowrie showing he's ready for return

BOSTON -- Jed Lowrie inched a step closer toward returning to the Red Sox with a solid rehab performance for Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday night.

Making the start at shortstop, Lowrie played seven innings and went 2-for-3 with two RBIs. His performance included a double.

Lowrie is expected to again play for Pawtucket on Friday, and he could be cleared to be activated by the Red Sox as early as Saturday, when the Sox take on the Yankees.

The switch-hitter, who overtook Marco Scutaro for Boston's starting shortstop position in mid-April, was sidelined with a bruised left shoulder. He has been on the disabled list since June 17.

Lowrie has played four times for Pawtucket this week.

Ellsbury's back-to-back walk-offs a rare feat

BOSTON -- By ending games with one swing on back-to-back days (Tuesday and Wednesday), Jacoby Ellsbury pulled off a feat that doesn't happen very often.

The last Red Sox player to have walk-off hits in back-to-back games was David Ortiz, who finished off the Phillies with a homer on June 24, 2006, and a single two days later.

"It's great," Ortiz said of Ellsbury. "I'm happy for him. He's worked really hard. It's well deserved."

The last Boston player to have walk-off hits on consecutive days? Butch Hobson, who pulled it off on Aug. 27 (12th-inning single) and Aug. 28 (ninth-inning double) of 1978.

Carl Crawford had three walk-off hits for the Red Sox in May, spread over a 20-day span. He has enjoyed seeing Ellsbury take on that role this week.

"That's fine with me. We love the walk-offs on this team. We don't like to go to extra innings," Crawford said. "At the end of the day, we just want to win. He's had two in a row. I was happy for Jacoby. He won it with a home run. How many times do you get to do that? I was just happy we won the game."

Drew, Jenks making progress

BOSTON -- Thursday marked the first day that right fielder J.D. Drew (left shoulder impingement) was eligible to come off the disabled list. And although he is making progress, he's not yet ready for a return to action.

"He's not swinging the bat yet," said manager Terry Francona. "Hopefully, [over] the next couple of days, he'll start doing that and we'll start that progression. He's been working out like crazy. He's on the treadmill, he's been shagging balls, he's been doing all that stuff, but he hasn't started hitting yet."

Reliever Bobby Jenks is also trying to work his way back from the DL. Jenks, sidelined with tightness in his back, hasn't pitched for the Red Sox since July 7.

"[Jenks] had a good day," Francona said. "I think he was a little sore after yesterday. Today was another good day, so we'll see how he reacts tomorrow."

Jenks has been playing catch in recent days but hasn't thrown off a mound.