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The Amazing Adventures of Victor and Clay

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  September 3, 2009 11:07 AM

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Victor Martinez and Clay Buchholz (Chris McGrath / Getty Images)

When Clay Buchholz takes the mound tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays in another pivotal game for the Red Sox, he’ll likely peer at home plate and see a reassuring figure: Victor Martinez crouched behind the plate, more often than not flashing the fingers Buchholz feels most comfortable with.

Buchholz and Martinez have formed a productive and prolific alliance. Terry Francona has not announced who will start tonight at catcher, but Martinez is a good bet. Martinez has caught Buchholz more than any Red Sox starter, teaming with him in all six of Buchholz’s starts since Martinez arrived at the trade deadline. During that span Buchholz is 2-2 with a 4.75 ERA, which is inflated by two bad starts in which he did not last five innings and allowed seven runs.

In his first appearance with Martinez, Buchholz instantly felt comfortable. Martinez caught him in a bullpen session the day before. Buchholz produced a clunker, giving the Baltimore Orioles seven runs in four-plus innings, but he said it had nothing to do with pitch selection.

“I felt really good with him even the first start,” Buchholz said. “There wasn’t a lot of shaking going on. The pitch he called is the pitch I wanted to throw.”

Martinez played shortstop growing up, and he did not catch – or even wear a catcher’s mitt – until the Indians converted him to catcher as an 18 year-old. He made himself into a catcher with determined work, and one his primary focuses was learning how to call games.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Martinez said. “You have a big responsibility back there. You want to make the pitcher the best that he can be that given night.”

When Martinez arrived, he asked pitchers questions, caught them in side sessions, and studied how they operated. It just so happened he and Buchholz fell into a natural rhythm. Buchholz likes the way Martinez comes up to him between innings and discusses his though process with certain batters.

“The thing I really like about him, he knows what he wants to do,” Buchholz said. “Whenever he comes out to the mound, that’s what he tells me – ‘Hey, this is what I got. If you want to do something different, you can shake off.’ He wants me to know his thought process is pretty much the same as mine.

“Whenever I’m in doubt and step off the mound and he comes out and talks to me, we figure it out and the game’s been going a little more smoothly.”

Back in spring training, Buchholz emphasized the importance, for him, of throwing the exact pitch he wanted to throw. It remained a theme all season. With Martinez behind the plate, he said, that has been easy.

“That’s been a big part for me this whole year, even in Triple A, was throwing the pitches that I wanted to throw,” Buchholz said. “I’ve been able to try to stay on that same track. For the most part, he’s been thinking the same way. It makes the game flow a little bit more smoothly. I think it’s a better tempo game for the fielder’s and everybody. Not taking 20 seconds in between each pitch. Maybe taking 13 or 14.”

Buchholz has felt good about his approach throwing to Martinez, who varies his calls as the game moves along. In one at-bat, he may throw an inside fastball for a strikeout pitch. Later in the same game, Martinez may call for an outside offspeed pitch to the same batter.

“In different situations, you never want to get into a set pattern – 0-2 you’re throwing a curveball, this and that,” Buchholz said. “With him, we’ve mixed up from at-bat to at-bat with the same guy.”

(It is important to note that Buchholz went out of his way to say he had no issue throwing to Jason Varitek. “I’m not singling anybody out,” Buchholz said. “With ‘Tek, I think the games could have went either way. If I make pitches and make locations, I think the outcome would be the same as I had the last couple starts with Vic.")

After that first start in Baltimore, Buchholz settled into his best stretch of starts this season, probably the most consistent month of his career. He threw four of five quality starts, culminating with his 8 1/3-inning, three-hit, one-run gem Saturday night. Some of the credit belonged to Martinez.

“It’s definitely a good thing,” Buchholz said. “He’s done a really good job.”

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