action:article | category:SPORTS0101 | adString:SPORTS0101 | zoneID:40

Home » Sports » Baseball » Red Sox/MLB

March 23. 2013 9:36PM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Buchholz is key for Red Sox


Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz throws in the first inning during a March 7 spring training game against the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Red Sox fans were so eager to put a woeful season in the past, and rightfully so, they probably weren't paying much attention this winter when Clay Buchholz was named the club's pitcher of the year for 2012.

It was an award that seemed to distinguish the right-hander only as the best of a bad lot, really. Buchholz finished with a record of 11-8, posting a 4.56 earned run average, and striking out only six batters per nine innings, while opponents managed a .757 on-base plus slugging against him. His numbers were all average, or below-average, so that he was deemed the ace of the staff presents a primary reason explaining why the team finished in the basement of the American League East.

Though look not at the sum, but rather the parts, and you'll also find reasons to think Buchholz could be key to a Red Sox resurgence in 2013.

Remember, at the start of last season he was historically bad. He allowed seven runs over four innings in his first outing, and it didn't get better for more than a month, as he was charged with at least five earned runs in each of his first six starts. He was the first pitcher in major league history to open a year that poorly, and his 33 were the most earned runs allowed by a Sox pitcher over his first six appearances in at least a century.

When Buchholz left the mound after yielding seven hits, four walks and five runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Orioles on May 6, his ERA stood at 9.09 - and there were legitimate questions about whether his next start would be in the big leagues. Or at least when it would come. There was speculation that if Buchholz wasn't actually hurt, the Red Sox might say he was in order to press the reset button and let him try to figure things out with some rehab starts in the minors.

Things didn't get that far. Though things didn't turn around instantly, either. Three starts later, his ERA was still 7.84, and opponents were hitting .330 against him with a .954 OPS.

But then came the correction. And cause for optimism this year.

Beginning with seven quality innings on May 27, Buchholz - who to that point could barely make it through surrendering five runs - allowed that many over his next four outings combined. Included therein was a four-hit shutout of the same Orioles team that had bounced him in the fourth inning just a month earlier, and that stretch proved a springboard.

Over his next 19 starts, Buchholz's ERA was 2.93, while foes hit just .229 with a .644 OPS against him. Eleven times he allowed two earned runs or fewer, eight of which were games in which he was charged with one or no runs. Fifteen times over that stretch he completed at least seven innings.

And what might be most encouraging moving forward is the evidence that he could've been even better. Just as he started to find his groove, he was hospitalized with internal bleeding from esophagitis and spent almost a month on the disabled list. Then there were a few more hiccups in his performance, as he was roughed up for five innings by the Marlins, seven runs by the Angels, and eight runs by the Yankees in a dreadful season finale where he recorded only four outs while allowing three home runs.

Ultimately that disaster of a finish, combined with his dreadful start, left his numbers looking wholly mediocre. Though for the better part of the three months in the middle, Buchholz was indeed the Red Sox' best pitcher - and, in fact, he was one of the best pitchers in the American League. He looked like the guy who just two seasons earlier had posted the AL's second-best ERA (2.33) and carried legitimate Cy Young hopes into September.

He looked like the pitcher the Sox have long expected him to be. And he looked like the pitcher who, at 28, could be the difference between them contending and them merely getting back to mediocre this season.

Ryan Dempster throws enough strikes and eats enough innings to think he'll be serviceable as Boston's No. 3 starter. If healthy, and seemingly so, John Lackey and Felix Doubront are capable in the Nos. 4 and 5 roles. And based on his career record and reunion with now-manager John Farrell, it's reasonable to think Jon Lester will bounce back and regain his status as the ace after what so far seems a brutal aberration.

But it's tough to contend with one top-tier stud followed by serviceable arms. Good teams have at least two good starters, so if Buchholz can fit that bill there's a decent chance the Sox could legitimately reenter the mix in the up-for-the-taking AL East - and at this point in his career, good should be a minimum expectation for Buchholz.

He's been that in the past, he was that for the majority of last season, and he's been that this spring. Entering Saturday's start against the Pirates and North Conway's Jeff Locke, he had allowed just a single run, and more importantly a hamstring strain sustained early in camp has proven no issue.

On Saturday, Buchholz threw 88 pitches over 5 1/3 innings, allowing just one run as Pittsburgh beat the Red Sox, 5-3.

Pirates' starter Jeff Locke of Conway, N.H., allowed three runs in four innings and retired the last six batters he faced.

Buchholz's results are encouraging in part because last year he struggled his way to a 5.23 ERA over spring training - and it's not a reach to say that slump bled into the regular season, or that it was a precursor to his pitiful start. A solid March this year doesn't necessarily mean his April will be any better, but the longer it lasts the clearer it becomes that he figured something out last season.

And the more likely it is that if he wins that same award this season, it'll be with a whole different meaning.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


 NH Sports Angle ╗ more
Links to news and happenings around the world of sports with a Granite State connection, updated daily.

State sells Windham golf course site for $3.06M

Ex-minor leaguers sue MLB over low salaries

$14M to beaten Giants fan returns security focus

Matt Bonner and brother bring rock show back to Redhook

GM: Twin State Speedway progressing with revival

Foot golf arrives on Seacoast

New Hampshire's Burns gets more than he could ever ask for

Pro runner's yoga class will raise money for clean Kenyan water

Menard wrecks as New Hampshire testing concludes

Lawyers try to bar Patriots from paying Hernandez $3.2M bonus

Pease Golf Course celebrates opening of lower nine holes

NFL rule could signal end of Justin Tuck signature facemask and that's a good thing according to UNH findings

NH man almost wins first $500k winner-takes-all open basketball tournament

Blue Jays move Dalton Pompey up to New Hampshire

Field set for 110th anniversary ĹClimb to the Clouds' car race

Contractors volunteer to complete renovations for 5th Annual Jericho ATV Festival

Dartmouth dismisses menĺs lacrosse coach

Jay Perrin looks to take his MMA career to the next level at Combat Zone 49

Dartmouth runner poised for long-term success on pro circuit

'Great Race' makes pit stop in Rochester

CHIP KELLY

Chip Kelly: Last practice not Fred Flintstone leaving work

Traffic jams expected with 30,000 fans at Epping dragway

Calgary Stampsĺ St. Pierre, complete with tattoos and plenty of brawn, not your typical NH wedding planner

Laconia man wins grueling 500-mile race in 9 days

NH native, famed NASCAR engine building, dead at 98

MORE

 New Hampshire Events Calendar
    

   ╗ SHARE EVENTS FOR PUBLICATION, IT'S FREE!

Upcoming Events

 New Hampshire Business Directory

  

   ╗ ADD YOUR BUSINESS TODAY!