A striking change in Buchholz
More maturity means fewer K’s
CLEVELAND — Over the last eight games, as Clay Buchholz has proven that he belongs among the leagues’ best, his strikeout numbers have been, well, pedestrian. He struck out seven against Minnesota and eight against Tampa Bay, two of the American League’s best teams. But in the other six games, Buchholz didn’t top four strikeouts.
Perhaps this is a sign of the maturing Buchholz, of the Buchholz learning how to work batters, how to remain in games longer, how to pitch.
“I think in the minor leagues, hitters, they go out of the strike zone a lot more,’’ Buchholz said. “I had a lot of strikeouts, but probably over half the strikeouts I’ve had were pitches out of the zone.
“Guys up here don’t swing, even with two strikes. They tend to make you throw a pitch in the dirt. You throw pitches in the zone, they’re going to get hit. I don’t think I’ve done anything different.
“I’ve always been told to take a three-pitch at-bat or a two-pitch at-bat, a one-pitch at-bat over a five- or six-pitch strikeout.
“Strikeouts are awesome. They’re fun to have under your name and everything. At the same time, you go deeper into games with less pitches you throw. It seems to work out a little bit more in your favor because you get in a rhythm more, you’re not throwing 25 pitches every inning. No disrespect to the strikeout.’’
This maturity was evident in his last start, against the Orioles. With a significant lead, which turned into an 11-0 shutout, Buchholz didn’t really give the Orioles chances to strike out. Instead, he challenged them in the zone, challenged them to hit the ball. He had just two strikeouts in his complete game. That, in many ways, is the idea.
“That’s what they try to engrave in you is to go out and do the little things right, throw pitches in the zone, get outs,’’ Buchholz said. “It takes a little bit of time for that to sink in after coming out of college and all you did was strike out people.’’
Buchholz’s strikeouts per nine innings are the lowest of his career, at the same time that he’s pitching the best of his career. The number has gone down from 8.7 in 2007 to 8.5 in 2008 to 6.7 in 2009 to 6.2 this season.
Buchholz suggests that perhaps some of that comes from batters having seen him more, and with more extensive scouting reports aiding them.
“They know what you throw in certain counts,’’ he said. “They know what your tendencies are. The more you pitch, the more they know about you.’’
Even with the lack of strikeouts, Buchholz has been outstanding.
Going into tonight’s start against Cleveland, Buchholz is 5-0 with a major league-best 0.99 ERA since May 14. He is tied for first in the American League with eight wins and second with a 2.39 ERA.
Numbers like those could cause visions of glory to dance through Buchholz’s head, though he seems to be unconcerned with next month’s All-Star Game at this point.
“It would be a great opportunity and everything, but you’ve got to keep working to get to that point.’’
“He’ll be examined thoroughly,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “Whatever that entails, they have our blessing. We need to try to get as much information as we can.’’
Francona said he has spoken to everyone involved, including Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, about the situation. Once Ellsbury has been examined, he will rejoin the team in Boston instead of returning to Cleveland.
“We’re trying to get the best information we can to get this defined and get him on his way,’’ Boras said. Asked whether his client has more discomfort, Boras said, “Yes. That’s why we’re trying to get more information.’’
The new tests clearly were requested by Boras and Ellsbury. The outfielder has been out since April 11 — with the exception of three games he played before returning to the disabled list — after suffering four fractured ribs in a collision with Adrian Beltre in foul ground in an April game at Kansas City.
“I hope there isn’t something new,’’ Francona said. “I think they’re just trying to get to the bottom, or if nothing else, get an opinion that’s completely removed from everyone that’s around him.
“Hopefully, we’ll get some news, and they’ll say, ‘We know you feel this, we understand that, and you can build up and you’re not going to hurt yourself.’ But we don’t know. That’s why we’re sending him. We just want to get as much information as we can.’’
Nick Cafardo and Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report.