Clay Buchholz had not pitched in a major-league game since June 8, and he came into Tuesday's contest with a 1.71 ERA, but these two facts didn't stop him from improving his season even further. The Red Sox ace twirled five innings on a limited pitch count, and the result was just three hits allowed, one walk, six strikeouts, and nary a run allowed.
Had it not been Buchholz's first start back, he would have been pushed further than 74 pitches. There will be time for that in the rest of September, though, as the Red Sox work to get Buchholz to the kind of 7-8 inning strength he was capable of before going down with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for three months.
Buchholz's change-up looked fantastic -- a good sign considering his change-up was off for over a month to start 2012 after significant missed time -- and though his fastball was a little unreliable early, he managed to pitch himself out of any situation he fell into, and escaped a match-up against the AL East's second-place team without allowing a run. This dropped his ERA to the season to 1.61, a mark so good that, while he's only thrown 89-1/3 innings on the year, he's still produced more than four wins above replacement on the year according to Baseball-Reference. It also dropped his career ERA against the Rays to 2.41 in 101 innings, and brought their line against him to .205/.278/.299 in 404 plate appearances.
The Red Sox rotation was productive without Buchholz. If he's picking up where he left off -- as the top pitcher in the American League -- then Boston might very well have the best rotation in the playoffs. We'll give it more than one start back before we get too excited, but Tuesday night was a great first step.
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