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Believing in Clay Buchholz's fast start

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  May 10, 2013 10:41 AM

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slider_166069289.jpgPlaying nine innings while hoping Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst are overwhelmed by guilt when Clay Buchholz inevitably gets a sunburn ...

1. Despite the mildly amusing, hopefully harmless bullfrog-'n'- resin controversy, I have complete faith that Buchholz, should he remain healthy, will perform as a legitimate ace for the Red Sox all season.

The talent and repertoire has always been there. He's in his prime now, has a manager who knows him and believes in him, and by all accounts he's matured into a leader by actions if not words.

(This is semi-related, but one Red Sox employee recently told me that no player has spent more time chatting with fans and signing autographs this season, and this is a good team for that sort of stuff. Buchholz might have had maturity issues early in his career, but those days are gone. He's a good guy who gets it.)

The one thing I still wonder about is whether he has the vengeful mean-streak on the mound that seems common among truly great pitchers, with Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens exhibits 1A and 1B around here.

With Toronto coming to town and Jack Morris peering down from his perch above, there's no better time for Buchholz to go out there with an attitude that he has something to prove -- even if he really doesn't.

2. So here the Red Sox stand, suddenly mired in their first slump of the season, with six losses in their past seven games, including three in a four-game set to the mediocre Twins. Worried? Not particularly. They've gone from 18-7 to 21-14, but hey, a .720 winning percentage isn't sustainable, and .600 is pretty damn good. I don't expect the regression to the mean to go on much longer, particularly with Jon Lester, Buchholz and Ryan Dempster lined up the next three days against the Jays. Sure, the attrition in the bullpen is a concern, but I'm a believer in Junichi Tazawa (learn the name, ESPN Fantasy Focus guys) and Koji Uehara no matter the role. And the starting pitching seems deep enough in the first four spots that middle-innings depth may not be as essential as it was entering the season. Ultimately, this is a rough spot, not an indication of who they really are.

3. Allen Webster's problems in his start Wednesday were myriad, but it is curious that he threw just a handful of sinkers, by all accounts his best pitch. I do wonder whether it might have gone differently had David Ross been behind the plate rather than Jarrod Saltalamacchia. After all, it was Ross who worked in tandem with him during his six-inning, two-earned-run debut April 21 against the Royals.

4. Man, has Ross had an oddly distinctive career. He's a fine defensive catcher, throws well, is a master at stealing a strike call, pitchers love him, has a .771 career OPS without hardly any platoon split (.774 OPS vs. RHP, .766 against LHP), averages a home run roughly every 25 plate appearances... and yet he's played for six franchises and has had over 200 plate appearances just twice in his dozen seasons. Maybe he's perfectly cast in the role he's always had. But he sure seems to have the set of tools required to be a quality starter.

bogaertsfinn510.JPG5. After a slow start, top prospect Xander Bogaerts is at .298/.365/.471 at Portland, with 10 extra-base hits (4 doubles, 4 triples, 2 homers) in 116 plate appearances. Down at High-A Salem, Deven Marrero, last year's first rounder, has an .851 OPS in his first 60 plate appearances, a small but encouraging sample. If Jose Iglesias is worried about his place in the shortstop hierarchy, he shouldn't just be looking ahead to Boston, but behind him.

6. Will Middlebrooks is obviously struggling mightily -- so mightily that his .608 OPS in 131 plate appearances so far is exactly .002 higher than hapless Marlon Byrd's in 106 PAs last year. Meanwhile, 2012 flash Pedro Ciriaco is looking like a 26th man now that his defensive liabilities have been exposed. If this keeps up, I'm not sure what the Red Sox should do at third base. But I do like my Globe colleague Geoff Edgers's suggestion:

Been saying that since '81 around here.

7. It stinks that it's come to this. And I'm far from assuming guilt -- to me, it's an somewhat unlikely torrid streak by an accomplished hitter in a small sample size. But if the thought Dan Shaughnessy turned into a column didn't at least cross your mind about David Ortiz -- who is 37, missed essentially the last half of last season, has been linked to performance-enhancing drugs in the past, and was slugging .815 after his first 59 plate-appearances -- then at the least I have to presume you're not a believer in healthy skepticism.

8. Stephen Drew has complained about more strike calls in the past two weeks (during which he's hitting .375/.422/.600, by the way, and c'mon, you knew I'd shoehorn that in) Don't judge a book by his brother, or however the saying goes.

boggsfinn82.jpg9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

I'll write more about some unearthed discoveries in the extraordinary Diamond Mines scouting report database soon. The database, an offshoot of a new Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit on scouting, is full of fascinating and often prescient information. But here's just one that made me chuckle. It's a report filed by Royals scout Tom Ferrick in 1976 on a Tampa prep ballplayer named Wade Anthony Boggs. The report is fairly encouraging, but here's the part that got me, right there under "weaknesses":

Bat slow and even falls back at plate against RHP ... Rigid bat mechanics. Needs a lot of help with bat.

So what you're saying then is that he's not going to hit .363 in the big leagues anytime soon? Gotcha, Tom.

Boggs's work ethic and self-confidence are legendary, and considering he wasn't regarded as much of a prospect even after advancing to Pawtucket, this scouting report is further confirmation of the time and effort he put in to become one of baseball's great hitters.

Of course, it could also be an indication that Royals scouts had an impossible standard for left-handed hitting third baseman in the '70s since the guy on their ballclub was pretty good. George somebody or other.

Actually, it appears Ferrick wasn't exactly blown away by George Brett, either ...

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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