What can fans expect from Clay Buchholz this year?

Clay Buchholz has been more than impressive thus far in his first four starts during the spring of 2009. Buchholz is 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA, striking out 12 hitters in his 13.2 innings pitched (as of 3/23). The young right hander seems to have worked out the kinks in his mechanics and more importantly his compsure, limiting his walks to only three so far. Spring Training is always a tough way to gauge how a player is progressing given the fact that a lot of the competition are minor-leaguers, but you have to be optimisitc about what Clay has been able to accomplish to this point.

It's no secret that Clay Buchholz's success lives and dies with his ability to locate his fastball, something he struggled mightily with in 2008 going 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in his 15 starts. Buchholz features one of the most devastating breaking balls in the Red Sox organization and also works in an above average changeup. However, without a consitently located fastball, those pitches are almost rendered useless.

Buchholz has impressed Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell with his delivery and more importantly his demeanor this spring saying:

"The one thing he's shown, even from the start of camp, his delivery is much more under control. He's come into camp with a more relaxed demeanor about him, I think it's in large part from what he learned through the challenges of a year ago."

This is something that should excite not only Farrell, but the entire Red Sox Nation as well.

At one point while facing the Orioles in a spring training game on March 10th, Buchholz was seen shaking off Jason Varitek numerous times before getting the pitch call he wanted. That pitch was a two-seam fastball which outfielder Luke Scott grounded to second ending the inning. Obviously Clay has become more confident in that pitch as this is something we would not have seen from him last year during his struggles.

With the abudance of arms featured on the Red Sox roster heading into 2009, Buchholz will most certainly start the year in Pawtucket allowing him just that much more time to gain conifdence and be ready when he is finally called upon sometime during the course of the regular season.

Buchholz has been fortunate in being able to be exposed to the tutelage of future Hall of Famer John Smoltz while working out this spring. Smoltz has offered tips and suggestions to Buchholz prior to his starts and the young right-hander credits much of his confidence to the Red Sox new addition:

He sat down [before my start] and said, "Hey, anything that you need to know?" He said he feels like he's been in the same position as me early in his career as far as people telling you, "Hey, you've got really good stuff. You need to learn how to use it." It's been good so far having him. ...

It was the best outing I've had in a long time. ... I do believe that anybody that goes out there and is getting outs whenever they're throwing the right pitch, it's easy to pitch that way. It's when adversity strikes, like in between those [good] innings, when you know what kind of pitcher you are.

With Buchholz's fastball finally coming around, and Smoltz helping him with the mental aspect of his game, it's not a stretch to expect a break-out year from the 24 year old much like the one we saw from Jon Lester just a year ago. Major League Baseball has seen the potential from this kid after his no-hitter on September 1 of 2007, but look for Clay to establish himself as one of the most dominating right-handers in the game for Boston on a consistent basis this year.

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