Clay Buchholz is only 24 years old, but heís already seen the peaks and valleys of a Major League Baseball career. On Sept. 1, 2007, he pitched a no-hitter in his second big-league start, becoming the third-youngest pitcher in Red Sox history to throw a no-hitter.
Last year, Buchholz went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA before finishing the season at Double-A Portland. After the season, he played winter ball and worked to improve himself mentally and physically. I talked to him about his hopes for 2009 and where he fits in Bostonís plans for the future.
TC: After the way last season went, I would guess you just wanted to get away from baseball and go home. What was your reaction when Red Sox management told you it wanted you to work on some things and play winter ball?
Buchholz: Probably exactly what youíd think it would be. I told them I really didnít want to go, I wanted to take some time off and clear my head. I thought that would be the best thing for me. So, they gave me two weeks off and said, ďOK, you had two weeks off. Now you go to Arizona.Ē So I went to Arizona, and I didnít really want to be there at first, but after about the first week I was there, I figured out there really were some things I could work on and get better at. That was my mindset, and it definitely helped me out.
TC: So there were some physical things, some mechanics for you to work on?
Buchholz: Definitely. By the time I left there, I felt about as good physically as Iíve ever felt at the end of the season. I got that mental break after I left and felt really good.
TC: When they start working on your mechanics, is it like tinkering with a golf swing? Are you suddenly relearning something youíve done all your life?
Buchholz: Yeah. Maybe I was taking a couple of things for granted and not working as hard as I
had in the past on little things and forgetting what that actually felt like. It almost felt like a change, but it was the same thing Iíd been doing all my life, and it was where I had to get back to as far as knowing what I was doing with my body and knowing every movement that I make.
TC: What about the mental aspect of a tough season like last year? How much of it is overcoming that mental part of it?
Buchholz: I think last year was 90 percent mental for me. I really had to work on that. I had never been put in a situation where I had two runners on, nobody out, and theyíd already scored two runs. In my whole career I donít think Iíd gone through something like that, and it was a little bitter and hard to swallow. It got even harder when the next game ended up that way, and they sort of stacked up on each other. I know I had the ability to do it physically, but the mental part of it was, ďWow, I canít do this right now. Iím not good enough,Ē and all those negative thoughts. So it was a bad year and a bad time overall, just for the fact that I didnít believe in myself and didnít think I could do it.
TC: You were so young to throw a no-hitter. Did you become a victim of that early success?
Buchholz: I came back the next year, last year, thinking this is easy. Iíve been doing this, and I did this really well the first four, five games when I came up. Thatís all it took for the word to get out and the video to go around and all that stuff. They had a scouting report on me, and guys knew what I was going to throw before Iíd throw it. These guys are good enough to hit mistakes even if itís still a good pitch. If itís not where you want it to be, itís still going to get hit. Thatís the way all of last year was, and I never reacted to that. I just kept going out there and throwing and thinking I was going to get over the hump, and it never happened.
TC: Yet you will always have that no-hitter on your resume. Can you draw strength from the fact that you had that type of success so early in your career?
Buchholz: Definitely. Like I said, I know I can do it. Thereís nothing in this game that I donít think I can do, but whenever you donít have your head in it and youíre not really thinking along with the game at this level, itís going to be hard for anyone to succeed. I was always told itís a thinking manís game, and thatís how you have to think of it now. Youíve got to do everything right every day and try to improve every day.
TC: Last year, it seemed you were almost assured of a spot in the rotation to start the season. Now, you look at the number of pitchers here and youíre going to have a tough time making the staff. Is that competition a good thing for you?
Buchholz: I think this situation is a better situation than the one I was in last year. Then, they were saying, ďYouíre our No. 5 guy,Ē and that put a whole lot of pressure on me thinking Iíve got to go out there and prove I belong in this rotation. This year, thereís a couple more guys on top of all that. Now Iíve just got to go out there and pitch. If everything works out and I pitch well, Iím on the team. If not, Iím in Triple-A. Iím sure Iíll get a spot later in the season. I definitely want to break camp with the team. Iím just not going to put any added pressure on myself. Iím going to be relaxed and go out and throw the ball and pitch and get outs and hopefully get some wins this year. A few more than two.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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