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For Buchholz, a spring of great optimism

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  March 23, 2013 05:54 PM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — First, a qualifier.

Clay Buchholz had a terrible spring training in 2010. He had a 6.75 earned run average over 17.1 innings and Terry Francona had to answer a few questions about whether the righthander deserved a place in the rotation.

But Buchholz was terrific once the season started, going 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and making the All-Star team.

So Red Sox fans shouldn't get too carried away with how well Buchholz has pitched this spring.

But he sure has looked good.

Buchholz allowed one run over 5.1 innings against the Pirates today, twice leaving runners stranded in scoring position. His numbers in spring training are eye-popping: 18.2 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB 16 K.

An 0.96 ERA and an 0.86 WHIP would have any pitcher smiling, even if the games don't count.

"It feels good to feel good, really," Buchholz said. "All the pitches are coming along. ... Things are rolling along right now."

Buchholz, 28, has been around enough not to get too excited. All these Grapefruit League games have done is give him some confidence.

"It's definitely a little different from the last couple of springs," he said. "It's good to see the work going into it is paying off a little bit."

Buchholz is lined up to start April 3 against the Yankees in New York and then on April 8 against the Orioles in the home opener at Fenway Park.

With all of the changes the Red Sox are going through, it's hard to predict they will contend this season. But that can change if Buchholz and Jon Lester pitch to their considerable abilities.

"People are overlooking Ryan (Dempster) and John (Lackey) and putting it all on Les and me," Buchholz said. "But it's going to take more than me and Les going out there and having good seasons."

Buchholz said his off-speed pitches "feel crisp" but his change-up is not quite polished up. He will get one more start in spring training, on Thursday, to finish up his preparations.

"That'll be my final piece of the puzzle," he said.

Buchholz estimated that it took him a month and a half to feel comfortable last season. That was reflected in his performance. Buchholz had a 7.84 ERA over his first nine starts and opponents were hitting .330 against him with an OPS of .954.

In the 20 starts that followed, Buchholz was 7-6 with a 3.41 ERA. Opponents hit .236 with a .671 OPS. That trend continued in spring training.

As it stands now, Buchholz will face the Yankees, Orioles and Rays in his first three starts. So we'll know how real this all is soon enough.

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