ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A fall-like, even frigid late-summer night in upstate New York.
No better place, perhaps, to see if Red Sox ace Clay Buchholz and his sore neck are up for the heat of an autumn playoff race.
Buchholz, who has been on the disabled list since June 9, made his third rehab start, and second for the Pawtucket Red Sox, on Thursday, in the hopes of being pronounced ready to return to Boston.
And while that official word will have to wait, what the righthander showed against the Rochester Red Wings seemed promising enough.
“Everything went really smooth,” said Buchholz, one day after the birth of his second daughter, Landry Grace. “It was sort of a rush, but everything was good. I’m ready to get back up there [to Boston].”
Buchholz went 3⅔ innings, threw 71 pitches (52 for strikes), allowing two runs in the PawSox’ 7-2 Game 2 playoff triumph, evening the best-of-five series.
Working more on command than velocity (he hit 93 miles per hour on the radar gun just once), Buchholz struck out five, all on curveballs, and walked two.
“I threw all my pitches,” said Buchholz, whose fastball and 12-to-6 curve are the prime weapons in his arsenal. “Whenever I reach back and try to throw something, I know it’s going to be there. It’s all about how the ball is moving out of my hand, and the release point.”
Buchholz was successful in staying ahead of hitters, jumping to 0-and-2 counts seven times. Curiously, four of those batters wound up reaching base.
Buchholz was at his best in the third inning, in which he needed just 11 pitches to set down Rochester in order, while racking up two strikeouts.
By that time, Pawtucket had a 5-0 lead off Red Wings starter P.J. Walters.
Buchholz, who was working under a 75-pitch limit, found a little trouble in the fourth, when he allowed both runs. The first came via an RBI double by Deibinson Romero, who came back from an 0-and-2 hole. Buchholz faced two more hitters before leaving to high-fives from his teammates.
“I’d have liked to have gotten up and down a few more times for innings,” Buchholz said. “The pitch count wouldn’t allow me to do that. I felt like I could have thrown as many pitches as they would have wanted me to.”
Working the behind the plate for the PawSox was youngster Christian Vazquez, perhaps a surprising choice considering that a more seasoned receiver, Dan Butler, was on hand. Vazquez spent most of the season with Double A Portland, and had made just one appearance with the PawSox after a late-season call-up.
Even so, Vazquez was nonplussed at getting the call. After all, he already had caught John Lackey, Franklin Morales, and Craig Breslow, who made rehab appearances with Portland.
“[Buchholz] is just another pitcher,” said Vazquez. “We just had to be on the same page.”
That was something Vazquez learned after catching Lackey’s rehab start. Vazquez said that like Buchholz, Lackey was simply interested in working out the kinks.
Buchholz wore his customary No. 11, co-opting it for the night from PawSox hurler Allen Webster.
“I bought them a spread [from a nearby rib joint],” said Buchholz, which he considered the price for his favorite number.