BOSTON, MA: Clay Buchholz #11 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The Red Sox might have lost Clay Buchholz's last start, dropping a 4-3 game to the Tampa Bay Rays, but it wasn't Buchholz's fault. In fact, Buchholz likely pitched his best game of the season, going seven innings while allowing just two runs, striking out six and walking one. That's the Clay Buchholz that the Red Sox have been waiting on all year, and after a few starts in a row with small improvements, they might finally be getting him.
The difference between Buchholz's first six starts and his last four is drastic:
As you can see, he hasn't been the old Buchholz in his last four starts, but he's been much better than he was, especially when it comes to homers. The slash line still isn't optimal, but neither is the batting average on balls in play -- if Buchholz can continue to miss bats as he has as of late, and is able to continue inducing grounders as well, that number should diminish.
Buchholz has had fewer problematic innings during the last four starts. In fact, he's only had the one terrible inning during this stretch, in which he allowed four runs, three hits, and three walks to Baltimore in the third inning of his May 21 start. He ended up lasting another 2-1/3 frames in that appearance, and, besides the one inning, was the efficient Buchholz of old. That's how he ended up getting through 5-1/3 despite throwing 94 pitches despite tossing 31 in the third alone (breakdown courtesy of Brooks Baseball):
Except for in the third, Buchholz was actually finding the strike zone, and often. He labored in the sixth and was lifted with his pitch count approaching 100, but if not for that inning, we'd likely be talking about four-straight quality outings without any caveats. (It happened, though, so don't take this as trying to erase it from the books.)
It was easier to feel this way after Buchholz pitched as well as he did against the Rays, of course. The most encouraging part of that start has to be his change-up usage. After nearly vanishing from his repertoire, Buchholz has slowly worked the pitch, his best pitch, back in to the mix. It's no surprise that, in a game in which he threw 25 change-ups (23 percent of his total pitches in that start), Buchholz struck out six hitters and had the second-most swinging strikes he's had all season with 11.
It might be even better news to note that, in a start within the last four in which he didn't feature his change-up, he saw 12 swings-and-misses. His cutter and curve were working for him that night, and his four-seamer even saw a pair of whiffs. His repertoire is rounding out, and when it finally does consistently, the Red Sox will finally have a rotation with more answers than questions in it. Just in time, too, as their attempt to stay over .500 from here on out has begun, and Buchholz will get his chance to be part of that tonight against the Blue Jays.