NEW YORK — Clay Buchholz had two major issues last season. He got off to a terrible start and he continued what has been a career-long trend of pitching poorly against the Yankees.
But after pitching brilliantly in spring training, Buchholz is actually confident about the idea of facing the Yankees Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium in the second game of the season.
“It’s good to start the season off here. It’s a good spot to be,” he said. “I’ll go out and try to have fun with it.”
Buchholz had a 7.84 earned run average and a 1.91 WHIP in his first nine starts last season. That he somehow won four of those games didn’t matter.
It started in the third game of the season when he allowed seven runs in four innings against the Tigers.
Buchholz is 2-5 with a 7.19 ERA in nine career starts against the Yankees. It was particularly bad last season. Buchholz lost both of his starts against the Yankees, allowing 13 earned runs on 15 hits (eight of them home runs) over 7⅔ innings.
There is good news, however. Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira are on the disabled list. Rodriguez is 9 of 23 against Buchholz with two home runs.
The Yankees also lost Nick Swisher (5 of 15 against Buchholz) to free agency. Eric Chavez, who homered twice off Buchholz last season, went that route, too. Swisher is now with the Indians and Chavez with the Diamondbacks.
“It’s still the Yankees. They always find a way to do it,” Buchholz said. “I’m going to treat it just like it was their regular lineup and they have everybody in there. Everybody knows that in this park you can give up a couple of hits and one big fly changes the game. It’s going to be the same type preparation for me.”
Robinson Cano is 12 of 25 against Buchholz with five extra-base hits. But the other expected starters for the Yankees have hit only .225 against Buchholz with three extra-base hits. Clearly limiting the damage Cano can do will be key Wednesday night.
Buchholz had an 0.79 ERA in six spring training starts. He threw four pitches for strikes, worked at a quick tempo, and was able to use his secondary pitches when behind in the count. Good spring training statistics don’t always carry over into the season. But Buchholz has a positive feeling going into the season.
“Definitely a little bit,” he said. “More than the last couple of years when it’s been up-and-down springs. Knowing that the stuff that I worked on, the preparation, it all sort of came through in the spring, it’s the same game here. It’s just a lot more people watching you.”
Manager John Farrell said Buchholz was “strong and consistent” throughout spring training.
“The one thing that was evident early on was that he came in without any physical issues to hold him back,” Farrell said. “I thought he was better overall, particularly with his fastball location at the bottom of the strike zone. If that holds true to form, he should be a very good and certainly a very strong starting pitcher for us.
“What that means in innings, wins, losses time will tell. But he’s in a good place right now to start the season.”
Buchholz, like Opening Day winner Jon Lester, has responded well to the return of Farrell as manager and the addition of Juan Nieves as pitching coach.
“Absolutely,” Buchholz said. “Obviously both know the game. I think the best part about them both is that they’re easy to talk to if you have a problem about something. You can walk right up to them and talk to them. You might not like what they tell you back but it’s going to be the truth. That’s all you ask.”
Buchholz also appreciates the improved atmosphere around the team, the result of Farrell being hired, a new set of coaches, and nine new players.
“It’s a 180-degree turn I think,” Buchholz said. “Everybody is loose and relaxed. There is no tension. It’s been an awesome clubhouse all spring. It’s been fun every day going to the field. There wasn’t a day that went by when I thought, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get out of this place.’ Everybody is in the right state of mind.”
Buchholz will face Hiroki Kuroda Wednesday night in what are expected to be raw conditions in the Bronx as temperatures drop into the 30s. The Red Sox have not started a season 2-0 since 1999.