A thought on tonightís much anticipated and long-awaited return to the major leagues for Clay BuchholzÖ
Itís fitting that the injury-riddled Red Sox hurler will make his first big league start in more than three months in Florida, the very state that houses the teamís spring training complex, since this outing may feel like a dust-off-the-rust, gauge-where-heís-at, donít-worry-about-the-stats, Grape Fruit League adventure.
Thatís no slight on Buchholz, of course; itís to be expected. His last MLB start came on June 8 against the Angels, which was only his second outing dating back to May 22 in Chicago. Itís been almost four months since the All-Star was a regular member of Bostonís rotation.
Since that time, lingering neck and shoulder woes have resulted in countless setbacks, undeniable frustration for the pitcher and his employer, media scrutiny over his mental toughness, a mind-easing visit with Dr. James Andrews, and three minor league starts. Oh, yeah, he and his wife also had a daughter.
Those minor league outings were, to no surprise, a mixed bag. The latest of the trio came last Thursday in a playoff tilt for Triple-A Pawtucket in Rochester in which he yielded two runs and four hits in 3⅔ innings while striking out five, walking two, and throwing 71 pitches. Overall, in two starts for the PawSox and one for the Single-A Spinners, Buchholz surrendered four runs, 12 hits, and five walks in 7⅔ frames for a 4.69 ERA. He also fanned eight.
On the bright side, the righthander said after his most recent performance that he felt comfortable and, equally important, mentally ready. He added after Sundayís bullpen session that his discomfort is gone and his curveball was the sharpest pitch of his repertoire.
Buchholz will be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Rays this evening so, odds are, he wonít get out of the fifth inning. Heís averaged a personal-best 14.8 pitches per inning this season, a number that jumps by about two pitches for his career, but itís hard to foresee that same precision in what, again, is effectively a season debut given his long layoff.
Itís also impossible to expect Buchholz be the same 9-0 pitcher with a skinny 1.71 ERA that he was through a dozen starts before being shut down. He may get there in time for the playoffs over the course of his (if all goes well) four starts that remain in the regular season, but only time will answer that question. In truth, he just has to be good enough, meaning better than Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront. Where he lines up in the playoff rotation will work itself out.
As for tonight, the eveningís game du jour, Buchholz and the Red Sox will look to continue holding off the struggling Rays. Tampaís a whopping 7Ĺ games behind Boston in the division entering the three-game set, having lost 11 of 15 while averaging just 2.7 runs per game. For Buchholz, the timing is good.
My prediction: 4⅔ innings, 3 runs, 6 hits, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts, and 78 pitches.
What say you?
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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