As Clay Buchholz surged through the minor league system this season, as he made his major league debut, as he threw his no-hitter, as he sat and sat in the dugout, the biggest question seemed to be whether the young righthander would see his name on the postseason roster. Not whether he would pitch again.
But when the answer came yesterday, it was not what anyone - including the Red Sox organization and Buchholz - wanted to hear. Buchholz will be shut down for the rest of the season because of fatigue in his pitching shoulder. He will not start. He will not relieve. He will not be on the postseason roster.
Not long after the team sat down with Buchholz, general manager Theo Epstein sat in the dugout and called the decision a "last resort," made after examinations of his shoulder.
"Obviously, this was not our first choice or even our second choice," said Epstein, who emphasized that Buchholz was not injured. "This was pretty much our last choice, our last option. But, unfortunately, this is something, after discussions with the medical staff, that we have to do.
"Clay is suffering from fatigue and [a] weak shoulder on and off here this last month. It's now to a point where he can't pitch safely in October."
Though he almost certainly would have been pitching in the playoffs - either as a starter or a reliever, depending on matchups and the health of the team - Buchholz will instead remain with the Sox for the first two home games of the postseason, then will head home to Texas.
"I feel a little bit tired right now, but it really wasn't a big deal to me," Buchholz said. "When they called me into the office, I knew what it was about. They're thinking about the long-term issue. I understand that fact, but it also feels like all the hard work and the year I've put together this year . . . and to go home, I'm sort of bitter about it. It makes me want to work even harder and get back here next year."
Between the minors and majors, Buchholz worked 147 2/3 innings, less than the limit of 155 the team had established but far more than the 119 he pitched in the minors last year.
He first experienced fatigue when he came out of the bullpen to pitch three innings in Baltimore, his first outing since his no-hitter, though the Sox determined that relief appearance did not cause the fatigue. Buchholz then went 13 days between outings, his next coming in his 4 2/3-inning start at Toronto Sept. 19.
The fatigue level that led to the decision was noticed most prominently in a bullpen session Buchholz threw last Sunday in Tampa. Through objective methods of measurement, it was determined that his risk of damage to the shoulder was high.
The Sox' only safe option was to shut him down for 10-14 days before he resumed a two-week throwing progression, which would have allowed him to pitch a couple of innings in the World Series, at best. But that wasn't enough of a potential reward to offset the problems of "keeping him hot for another month," Epstein said.
Most important for Buchholz as he heads back to Texas will be the offseason shoulder strengthening program the Sox will customize for him. It will be similar to the one used by Josh Beckett.
Buchholz, who might not have been as committed to working out and strengthening his shoulder in past offseasons as the Sox would have liked, said he will take a new approach.
"It's going to be a different offseason for me," said Buchholz, who finished his first stint in the major leagues with a 3-1 record, a 1.59 ERA, and 22 strikeouts over 22 2/3 innings. "I'm going to get started a little earlier and work through the offseason instead of taking as long a break as I did last year."
"He needs to be a really hard worker this winter," Epstein said. "He needs to put in the hard work this winter so next September he's really strong going into the postseason. He's looked us in the eye and promised us that he would do that. We believe him."