Clay Buchholz: Red Sox Starter Continues to Perplex Team and Fans

Boston Red Sox's Clay Buchholz walks to the dug out after pitching during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Boston, Saturday, May 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Clay Buchholz line from Saturday May 14, 2016: 6 IP, 7 Hits, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 2 HR.

Clay Buchholz line from Saturday May 14, 2016 minus the second inning: 5IP, 5 Hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR.

The second line isn’t that bad. The other five innings Buchholz pitched on Saturday weren’t dominant or perfect. His only 1-2-3 inning was the top of the fifth. Houston hit a home run in the first inning as well. Still, if the second inning had never happened, then Red Sox manager John Farrell wouldn’t have ever been asked the question that led to this quote after the Red Sox 6-5 extra-inning, walk-off win.

“Everything points to him making his next start.” – John Farrell to Darren Hartwell of NESN.com 

Had Buchholz only allowed one earned run, his spot in the Red Sox starting rotation wouldn’t have been questioned.

That one bad inning. That’s really the issue with Buchholz. He’s been in the majors for the better part of the last 10 years. His second career start was a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles. He was a bonafide AL Cy Young contender in 2010, finishing sixth in the voting.

Those positives aside, Buchholz career has mostly been a case of a bad outing here, a bad inning there. Sometimes Buchholz looks awful, other times he can be a very tough pitcher for opposing batters to make solid contact against.

Two starts ago, on the road, facing a White Sox team with the AL’s best record, Buchholz allowed two earned runs, and three hits over seven very effective innings.

Back in Mid-April facing a lethal Toronto offense Buchholz hurled almost seven innings of shutout baseball. As encouraging as those outings have been, Buchholz has also allowed five earned runs in five separate starts.

More often then not, it is a case of one bad inning, and that inning tends to be one of the early innings.

On April 28, three of the five earned runs Buchholz allowed to the Braves came in the second inning.

Facing the Astros on April 23, Buchholz allowed five earned runs, four came in the fifth inning.

His season debut was against the Cleveland Indians on April 6. Buchholz allowed five earned runs over four innings and four of those runs came in a frustrating first inning in which he allowed three hits, walked one and served up a three-run home run to Carlos Santana.

Clay Buchholz having one really bad inning has become far too regular an occurrence. The fact that he seems to be able to recover, and be effective only adds to the frustration. After all, everyone involved, Buchholz included, has to know that he can be a pretty darn good pitcher.

After Saturday’s win, Buchholz seemed as vexed as anyone, telling MassLive.com’s Jen McCaffrey:

“I was trying to baby a lot of pitches today and make them strikes rather than swing and miss pitches and started taking that mindset with the changeup later in the game,” Buchholz said. “Just grip it and throw it. I got a handful of swings and misses of the changeup today. Just trying to stay out there and pitch is not good enough, you’ve got to go out there and beat the other team. So the first couple innings have given me problems so far.”

Here’s the problem though. Buchholz isn’t that young or that inexperienced. At this point in his career he has to understand that trying to be perfect, or being hesitant to challenge the opposition will inevitably lead to problems.

Joe Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez are both nearing returns from disabled list stints.

Rodriguez is a lock to join the Red Sox rotation, but he will take Sean O’Sullivan’s place, not Buchholz’s.

Joe Kelly is a different story.

Kelly has started three games for the 2016 Red Sox. In only 8.2 innings of work, he’s allowed 9 earned runs and walked 10 batters. The unfortunate reality for Kelly is that he’s a pitcher who has little room for error while on the mound.

He doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, that means he must rely on major league hitters making contact, but not making solid contact.

His control is inconsistent, once he puts men on base, it is very difficult for him to prevent them from scoring.

Even with Buchholz struggles, there’s no real reason for manager John Farrell to remove Buchholz from the rotation and replace him with Joe Kelly.

That means that for now Clay Buchholz is going to remain a part of the Red Sox starting rotation. It isn’t enough that he’s been inconsistent, the Red Sox simply do not have a better alternative at this time.

Those early inning struggles are unacceptable, but his ability to string together several shutout innings in a row, even in the aftermath of early game struggles is evidence of the ability that has been apparent since his 2007 no-hitter.

There’s zero question that Clay Buchholz can be a solid to above-avearge Major League starting pitcher. The issue has always been consistency and that’s probably the only consistent aspect of his career.

The Red Sox league-best offense allows them to be unusually patient with Buchholz. This is a squad that can win games when the opposition scores four, five or even six runs. That’s not ideal, and should the Red Sox advance to the postseason that won’t be acceptable.

For now Buchholz remains what he’s always been, a talented, but maddeningly inconsistent starting pitcher who has a place in the Boston Red Sox starting rotation.

 

 

 

About the Author

Ben Shapiro

Red Sox columnist for ESPN New Hampshire. Originally from Western Massachusetts, I currently live in New York City with my wife and dog.

I’ve previously written for Huffington Post, Bleacher Report and MassLive.com

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