On Wednesday, we took a look at Clay Buchholz's previous start -- in many ways, his most successful of the season, but also a strange one. Of note were a variety of things we needed to see more of from Buchholz, including improved and consistency velocity, as well as the additional use of his change-up. While it's a pitch he's had trouble locating, it's the one that's the key for him to inducing swings-and-misses.
Against the Rays on Wednesday, Buchholz showed some flashes of the pitcher that he's been in the past, taking another small step towards erasing the memory of his early-season struggles. In his previous seven starts, Buchholz had thrown 57 change-ups, or eight per start. He tossed 11 last night -- not significantly more, but more -- and earned swings-and-misses on two of them, while the other four strikes weren't put in play. That's not perfect, but for a pitcher who had just seven whiffs on 57 change-ups to this point, two out of 11 isn't bad. (For more on his change-up usage, Brian MacPherson has you covered at the Providence Journal.)
You want to see more of that -- as well as more change-ups located for a strike -- going forward. At least his curveball was an effective offering this time around, picking up four whiffs, with 14 of 17 landing for strikes. To this point, his bender has been useful in a relative sense, mostly because his other pitches weren't getting anything done. But last night, it was useful without caveat. In the past, the pitch has been a problem for him, but if he can feature one more like Wednesday night's more often, then it would justify the decision to bring it back into his repertoire as heavy as he has. That needs to happen before we get to that point, though.
As for his velocity, he started off much quicker than in his last appearance, where it took him roughly 15 pitches or so to get going:
It's a bit disconcerting that his velocity started to tail off as dramatically as it did in his final inning, especially since he threw just 87 pitches overall. But he looked very strong in the inning before he was lifted, too, throwing nine of nine for strikes. The quick hook seemed a bit odd for manager Bobby Valentine, but he pulled Josh Beckett after 93 pitches on Tuesday rather than letting him get into trouble first, and here it seems as if the drop in velocity (and therefore possibly effectiveness) might have been noticed.
Buchholz's fixing of whatever it is that ails him isn't over, but this is two starts in a row where he showed off his old abilities. Last time around, it was the ground outs, and this time, the punch outs. Maybe as soon as his next start, we'll get a chance to see him earn both.