He’s only getting better
Early woes don't slow Buchholz
Since Clay Buchholz’s first start this season, when he gave up seven runs in four innings, his ERA has gradually declined, the digits plummeting as his start length rose, the righthander finally acting like the ace the Sox so desperately need.
And Monday night was the apex.
After allowing a leadoff homer to Austin Jackson, Buchholz was magnificent through eight innings in Boston’s 7-3 win over Detroit at Fenway Park. The next batter, Quintin Berry, smacked a double.
But Buchholz got the heart of a powerful Tigers lineup in order — Miguel Cabrera on a comebacker, Prince Fielder on a strikeout, and Delmon Young on a groundout to short.
“Yeah, in the bullpen, I was up in the zone,” Buchholz said. “I’m not saying that you take your bullpen into the game, but the release point was a little off and balls were up, and against a team like this, when you leave balls over the middle of the plate, they get hit pretty hard.
“They’re a team that everybody knows is aggressive and a fastball-hitting team. They’ve got a couple of guys in there who can hit strike offspeed stuff, too.”
The Tigers have plenty of sluggers, no matter what pitch they see. Cabrera is batting .379 with 28 RBIs over his past 31 games. Fielder’s average was a career-high .305 entering the game. But they went a combined 1 for 6 against Buchholz, who allowed five hits and struck out four.
While his counterpart Max Scherzer, the AL leader in strikeouts per nine innings, overpowered the bottom of the Sox order with fastballs that topped out at 98 miles per hour, Buchholz was craftier. And better.
“Me and [catcher Kelly Shoppach] had a pretty good flow going,” Buchholz said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of shaking off tonight. I think that had a lot to do with it.”
Whatever the reason, Buchholz quietly has found his form. Over his past nine starts since May 27, Buchholz is 5-1 with a 2.44 ERA, though he entered without a decision in his past two appearances, despite allowing just one run in each. Buchholz was 4-0 in June, including a four-hit shutout against Baltimore on June 7.
He came close to matching that effort Monday night. Real close.
He did not allow an earned run after the third inning, and at one point retired 12 straight.
Even when faced with trouble, Buchholz came through. In the third, after Omar Infante led off with a triple, Jackson walked. Cabrera hit an RBI single, and Fielder walked to load the bases. After a brief visit from pitching coach Bob McClure, Buchholz pumped two cutters at Young, inducing an inning-ending double play.
“It’s obvious I thought he was spectacular,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “Leaving the runner on base in the first inning and getting the ground ball double play with bases loaded, he was cruising from that. Got his ball down, threw great offspeed stuff, really great curveball, changeup, cutter, and gave us eight great innings.”
It has been a season of steady maturation for Buchholz, who is lasting deeper in games — since June 1, he has pitched at least seven innings in six of eight starts — and figuring out new ways to extricate himself from potentially harmful jams.
“I feel good; it’s just having a little bit of confidence,” Buchholz said. “Going out there and throwing the ball well just builds confidence and adds to what you already had. It definitely feels good and there’s always something you can work on to change and get better at.
“Everything feels in synch right now and that’s the working part of it.”
But he shook off any idea that his arsenal somehow has strengthened over time.
“The stuff’s the same,” Buchholz said. “Ground balls that are getting hit right at guys just weren’t getting hit at them earlier this year. It was just out of their reach and two runs would score on a ground ball like that. So it’s a little bit of luck involved and a little bit of confidence and being able to throw a pitch with conviction instead of second-guessing it.”
Alex Prewitt can be reached at email@example.com.