"Best-case scenario," Scioscia said, "is he gets a little bit of the tightness out, starts long-toss in four to five days, gets on a mound within 10 days and, if relief is there, I think we're going to see a different pitcher.
"He'll extend more, get the ball where he needs it. Best-case is 16 days from now he's pitching for us. That's what we anticipate."
Scioscia doesn't feel Saunders will need any Minor League rehab tune-ups before getting back in the flow of Major League games. His 136 2/3 innings in 23 starts -- he's 9-7 with a 5.33 ERA -- have served to give him the endurance he'll need when he returns, the manager thinks.
"You're talking about a guy who really wants to be on the mound and needs to pitch for us," Scioscia said.
In the meantime, there are options to fill Saunders' rotation slot, but Scioscia wasn't tipping his hand.
Matt Palmer is 9-1 with a 4.52 ERA, with 12 starts in 25 appearances. Shane Loux, another right-hander, opened the season in the rotation and is 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA, having made six starts and 15 appearances.
There are options in the Minor Leagues -- one (right-hander Trevor Bell) at Triple-A Salt Lake and two (lefties Trevor Reckling and Alex Torres) at Double-A Arkansas.
Scioscia also said general manager Tony Reagins is working the phones in search of available arms at the Major League level. A waiver deal must be made by Aug. 31 for a player to be eligible for postseason play, unless he replaces a player on the disabled list. Boston designated John Smoltz for assignment after he was knocked around by the Yankees on Thursday.
Bell, a 2005 first-round compensation pick out of Crescenta Valley High School in Southern California, has made major strides this year after pitching no higher than Class A his first four professional seasons.
Bell is 3-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 10 starts at Salt Lake after going 4-3 with a 2.23 ERA in 11 outings at Arkansas. In 138 innings at the two levels, he has yielded 119 hits and 35 walks, with 89 strikeouts.
"Confidence, consistency, command, all the stuff that goes into making a pitcher, have raised him on the depth chart," Scioscia said of Bell. "Plus, his great makeup would make him a candidate."
Reckling, 20, is 7-4 with a 2.69 ERA in 18 starts at Arkansas after starting the season at Class A Rancho Cucamonga, where he was 1-2 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts. In 126 combined innings, he has surrendered 102 hits and 60 walks, striking out 101 hitters.
Torres, 21, has spent almost the entire season at Rancho Cucamonga, going 10-3 with a 2.74 ERA in 121 innings while giving up 93 hits and 63 walks and striking out 124. At Arkansas he's 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA, going 5 2/3 innings with four five hits and walks against three strikeouts
Scioscia said he'd consider bringing up a Double-A pitcher, having seen it work out several times during his playing days with the Dodgers, but is careful not to overextend a young arm.