Fans in Red Sox Nation are desperate for a front-line starter. So far this year they've pinned their hopes on just about everyone. Jon Lester started the year as the top hopeful (even year ruled Beckett out), then Felix Doubront took over when he was the only one providing consistent quality. Josh Beckett actually got a nod when he had his strong outings surrounding his golfgate disaster against Cleveland, and even Franklin Morales enjoyed a few weeks in the spotlight before being shuffled unceremoniously back to the pen.
That, of course, leaves Clay Buchholz, and now it is his turn.
Anyone paying much attention to the Boston sports media today will notice that Buchholz as an ace is one of the hot topics of the day, second only to Cody Ross' ridiculousness, and why not? Eight innings, one run, seven baserunners, and six strikeouts is a fine day at the office for anyone.
It's amazing that we're even mentioning Clay in the same sentence as ace after the start he had. This is the guy who had a 9.09 ERA six starts into the season. On May 27, however, Buchholz went out and held the Tampa Bay Rays to two runs in seven innings of work, striking out six and walking one much like last night. Since then, he's been as strong as anyone else has been on this team aside from perhaps the aforementioned Morales.
There have been a couple of bumps along the way, but even then they were easy to excuse. Five runs against Miami came entirely because of Logan Morrison, who clearly sees something in Clay that others do not, while half of the four runs offered up to Tampa Bay came were allowed to score by Matt Albers. Even with these blips, however, Buchholz has an excellent 2.63 ERA dating back to May 27.
Of course, we've seen Clay put up excellent results before, but he's never really put together the whole package, as it were. The strong ERAs of 2.33 and 3.48 in 2010 and 2011 were produced by strikeout rates of 6.22 and 6.53 and walk rates of 3.47 and 3.38 respectively. This run? It's been rather different: 45 strikeouts in 51.3 innings (7.9 K/9) and just nine walks (1.6 BB/9). You won't find any seven-game stretch quite so good in 2010 or 2011. 38 strikeouts and 10 walks in 44 innings leading up to his injury last year is the best there is.
Knock on so much wood.
That being said, it is just seven starts, and seven starts does not make an ace, or even a front-line starter. Any declaration of Clay Buchholz' supremacy is beyond premature. We've seen John Lackey put together a couple of good months.
What these seven games might offer us is some comfort and security. Given that Buchholz is owed $25 million over the next three years, seeing him come back from injury and bomb so disastrously to start 2012 was a bit panic-inducing. At the very least Clay is capable of being the pitcher he once was, be that a lucky pitcher or a unique one. The improved peripherals even give some level of hope for more. It could just be a good run against varying levels of competition, or given that his best run in the last two years came right before the injury, it could be him continuing his growth after finally finding his rhythm again.
Perhaps Clay Buchholz will end up being the ace we were hoping for after his no-hitter. Perhaps he'll just be a solid fixture in the rotation. Either way, right now the Sox will absolutely take what Buchholz is giving them. He may not have earned the title of ace with seven good games, but so long as he provides ace-like results we shouldn't complain too loudly about anyone crowning him.