TOKYO - As the regular season nears, it appears that Clay Buchholz, for now, holds down the fifth spot in the rotation. But he hasn't exactly had a very good spring training. Though the Red Sox aren't basing their decision solely on spring results, Buchholz has given up at least two runs in each of his four outings, including Saturday's exhibition against the Hanshin Tigers.
And he still has not yet made it through the fourth inning.
Buchholz allowed four runs on six hits and two walks against Hanshin at the Tokyo Dome, striking out four in 3 2/3 innings. He was replaced with the bases loaded by Kyle Snyder, who induced a fielder's choice to get out of the inning, and the Sox went on to win, 6-5, before a crowd of 37,431. David Ortiz hit a solo home run and J.D. Drew hit a three-run shot.
"I thought he was up and he didn't command as well as he probably needs to or probably will," manager Terry Francona said. "It's still March 22. His velocity was probably 88, 89, 90; as he gets into the middle of the year and he's in a rhythm, he'll throw harder.
"A lot of it comes down to fastball command. As good as his off-speed is - and I didn't think today that was his best off-speed - if he commands that fastball, that's what makes him so good and what will make him better."
Francona had hoped Buchholz would get through five innings, so the Sox could set up their pitching for the rest of the trip. Over his 3 2/3 innings, Buchholz threw 76 pitches, 45 for strikes.
"Overall, I thought it went pretty well," Buchholz said. "I left a couple of pitches up over the plate, and that hurt. I thought I was able to keep the ball down most of the time. The Tigers hitters stayed back on the ball better than I thought they might."
Timlin looks iffy
It appears unlikely that Mike Timlin will be ready for either of the regular-season games this week because of the finger injury he sustained last Wednesday. According to Francona, Timlin was "a little bit stiff, a little tender," and the manager added, "We don't want him going backwards." Timlin needed two stitches on the ring finger of his pitching hand after he was hit by a comebacker. Asked if the reliever would be ready by Tuesday or Wednesday, Francona said, "I would say the under's probably the safe bet. It's not etched in stone yet. I'm not sure we're going to do something silly." . . . Bartolo Colon was scheduled to pitch in Saturday's minor league game back at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla., before he meets up with the Sox in Los Angeles. Colon is expected to pitch against the Dodgers, perhaps in the first game, though he could swap days with Tim Wakefield, depending on how Wakefield feels coming home from Japan . . . Jacoby Ellsbury started in center but moved to left when Coco Crisp came into the game in the seventh. Crisp, who entered as a pinch runner for Mike Lowell, did not come to bat. Francona said Crisp is "swinging the bat in BP about as good as we've ever seen, which is good to see." . . . Josh Beckett threw 45 pitches in a bullpen session Friday in Fort Myers. He is scheduled to throw another bullpen today, as he works his way back from the lower back injury that kept him from accompanying the team to Japan.
Options in the order
There's a chance that Saturday's lineup - with Dustin Pedroia leading off and Kevin Youkilis batting second - might be the one that begins the season. Both players grew comfortable in those roles through the middle and end of last season. That would also allow the Sox to bring Ellsbury along slowly, as they did with Pedroia last season, by putting him toward the bottom. "If Ellsbury is playing, we can hit him lower," Francona said. "If he wants to get real hot, we can always move him up. That's kind of safe way to do it. We'll see." . . . Hideki Okajima is scheduled to face his former team, the Yomiuri Giants, in today's game. Okajima pitched for Yomiuri from 1995 to 2005, before heading to Hokkaido for one season . . . With the Red Sox bringing a few extra players to Japan, there are some who won't stay on the roster when the team heads back to Oakland. Guys on the bubble include Bryan Corey and David Aardsma, and players likely to start the season in the minors include Dusty Brown, Brandon Moss, and Jed Lowrie. "We just told them they were coming to Japan," Francona said. "They're smart enough to know that when we leave here, there need to be some moves made. They're aware of that. You can't tell them things you don't know. Those things have to have a way of running the normal course."
A history with them
The Hanshin Tigers aren't exactly new to Francona. His University of Arizona team faced them back in 1979, when the Tigers came through Arizona on what Francona believes was a spring training-type trip. "They let us use aluminum bats," he said. "That was a mistake." . . . With fans in the left field section chanting, singing, and belting out coordinated cheers, it wasn't exactly quiet time for Manny Ramírez in the outfield. "We joked with Manny he couldn't hear what was going on with the game, it was so loud out there," said Youkilis . . . The teams used their own baseballs in Saturday's game. When they were in the field, the Tigers used the Japanese version, which are slightly smaller; the Red Sox used the Major League Baseball version.