Clay Buchholz Continuing To Improve

TORONTO, CANADA: Clay Buchholz #11 of the Boston Red Sox throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during MLB action at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

It's still masked by his horrific start to the season, in which Clay Buchholz posted a 9.09 ERA over his first six starts and 32-2/3 innings pitched, but things have turned around for the right-hander. Over his last five starts and 31-2/3 frames, Buchholz has a 3.98 ERA, 20 strikeouts against 11 walks, and has started to induce the grounders that helped him so much in previous seasons.

That's still not quite the Clay Buchholz the Red Sox need -- the one with a 3.10 ERA, 142 ERA+, and 6.4 strikeouts per nine from 2009 through 2011 -- but he's been exponentially better than his horrific start to the year. Another strikeout per nine would do wonders for his overall results -- it would push his K/BB over two, his punch outs over 6.5 per nine -- but as long as he continues to keep the ball in the yard (just three of the 13 homers he's allowed in 2012 have come in his last five starts), then the Red Sox will be in line to win most of his games.

Unsurprisingly, the key has been the reintroduction of his change-up. We've covered that in this space before (and again, and again) -- and as early as March we discussed why focusing on his curve over his change would cause problems -- but that doesn't make it any less encouraging to see the trend continue in the direction it should. Of Buchholz's 108 pitches in his last start, 21 of them were change-ups, over half of which went for strikes, including five swings-and-misses. As a result, in a game in which his bender wasn't getting whiffs, Buchholz was still able to thrive, punching out seven over his eight innings.

In addition to his effective off-speed offering, Buchholz has also seen more consistent -- and higher -- velocity as of late. That was a noticeable issue in April, when he couldn't get the bite he needed on his cutter or fastballs necessary for either swings-and-misses or grounders. The move towards touching the mid-90s and sitting in the 92-93 range has been huge, and, if the past is any indication, that velocity should continue to move up slightly as the year progresses for Buchholz.

Boston will need to see more of that against the Orioles tonight in order to remain over .500 on the season. The lone start of his last five in which Buchholz had trouble was against Baltimore, but even that was contained to a single inning. If he can avoid that horrible frame, as he has in his last two starts and 15 innings, Red Sox fans will have even more to be encouraged by with Buchholz as he attempts to make us forget April ever happened.

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