Sports

Blasberg ’18: Buchholz off to shaky start

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, April 8, 2016

Clay Buchholz followed up an underwhelming spring training campaign with an apologetic start against the Cleveland Indians Wednesday. Buchholz, who struggled with injury for much of the Red Sox’s 2015 horror show, entered this season with high hopes of returning to his prime from around 2010.

In Wednesday’s game against the Indians, Buchholz was ravaged for four runs in the first inning and another in the second. He lasted only four innings, getting promptly yanked after walking the leadoff hitter in the fifth. In the end, Buchholz escaped without the loss, but the Indians’ four-run first frame was instrumental to handing the Red Sox their first loss of the season.

Buchholz did settle down after his first-inning disaster, but the damage was already done, thanks to a three-run bomb by Carlos Santana.

Buchholz’s Achilles heel was his fastball, as is often the case. Santana devoured one in the first for a home run, and Jason Kipnis drove another to deep right for an RBI double. In the first inning, Buchholz invited hitters to tee up on him by giving them fastballs up in the zone and over the middle part of the plate.

On the other hand, Buchholz did exhibit impressive off-speed pitching. He racked up four strikeouts over his four innings, mainly by using his breaking balls to great effect. But the utility of these pitches was compromised because of the placement issues he had with fastballs.

Buchholz’s troubles place a particular strain on the largely unproven Red Sox bullpen. After Buchholz’s fifth inning exit, the pen had five innings of work to do to keep the Sox in the game. In the spring, manager John Farrell hoped Buchholz could be a pitcher they could rely on for up to 180 innings throughout the course of the season. Farrell’s frustration was palpable when he was forced to replace Buchholz with Noe Ramirez with no outs in the fifth.

Perhaps the Red Sox are foolish for having believed that Buchholz could find form at this point in his career. After all, the 31-year-old is past what the Red Sox claim to be a pitcher’s prime — about 27 years old. As a rookie, Buchholz was promising, dealing a no-hitter on his second major league start. He is capable of pitching like an ace, but he has not displayed the consistency that would hint at this season being a particularly productive one. On top of that, Buchholz, who is susceptible to his emotions, might bring weakened self-confidence to the mound after so many of his seasons have been cut short by injury. With the exception of the 2013 season, in which he missed almost the entire second half with a hand injury,  the veteran pitcher’s resume over the past five years has been mediocre and shows absolutely no sign that he will be able to eat up innings the way the Red Sox anticipate.

The Red Sox have a promising young lefty by the name of Henry Owens budding in Pawtucket. He will be a strong replacement when Buchholz gets hurt or pitches poorly. A standout in spring training, Owens got a handful of appearances at the tail end of last season. The Red Sox’s unpredictable rotation will definitely give way to the young lefty and give him a nice opportunity to make a home in the majors.

In fact, with the exception of David Price, the Red Sox’s rotation should be fluid to start the season. Buchholz and Porcello are big question marks, and their absences may give way to more promising youngsters.

Charlie Blasberg ’18 thinks he has a chance to be the Sox’ fifth starter this season. Tell him that Clay Buchholz might take his spot at charles_blasberg@brown.edu.

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