clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Clay Buchholz avoids Tommy John Surgery, but Red Sox should still play it safe

Clay Buchholz has avoided the operating table. Hopefully with the right approach to his return, he can also avoid a disaster 2016.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

There's good news out of Pensacola. James Andrews has reaffirmed the original diagnosis on Clay Buchholz' elbow: his Ulnar Collateral Ligament is intact, meaning Tommy John Surgery is unnecessary, and leaving the pitcher facing nothing worse than a platelet rich plasma injection and a little downtime.

In a world where the Red Sox are still in it to win it, the loss of Clay Buchholz for any number of games is slightly more concerning. But as far back as they are now, the value of a start lies more in the information and experience it can provide than anything else. Neither of which is in short supply for the eight-year veteran.

In fact, at this point, it's possible that getting Clay Buchholz back in the rotation with any expediency is just a bad idea. And not because the Red Sox should be tanking hard for draft position or anything like that. The simple fact is that, with Buchholz, no injury is too small to demand caution. We learned that much in 2013, and felt the aftermath from that lesson in a disastrous 2014. Even the smallest molehills can turn into season-destroying mountains.

This is not to crucify Buchholz. Durability is simply one of the many attributes that make a player who they are. Fragile players don't choose to be born fragile, and it's not exactly like Buchholz is guilty of not "toughing it out," since we've seen how dramatically he can fall apart when he's not physically right. We've all seen the way Dustin Pedroia has at times cost the Red Sox by trying to play through injury and turning in a dreadful month as a result. Buchholz is probably doing the team a service by letting them know when something's wrong and removing himself from the mound.

But if the when of Buchholz' return doesn't matter much for 2015, it might matter quite a bit for 2016. Looking back at Buchholz' two lost seasons (2012 and 2014), they both came after years where Buchholz suffered midseason injuries that cost him significant periods of time. But that's not the only overlap. In 2011, with the Red Sox' season suddenly collapsing while pitchers like Kyle Weiland started games in September,  the Red Sox were pushing hard to get Buchholz back on the mound either to save their place in the standings, or to pitch in the postseason had they actually managed to get there. And of course in 2013, Buchholz actually did take the mound again for the Red Sox, though he did not look quite the same when he did.

The point being that, if it's hard to understand how an injury in 2013 can completely derail a player's 2014 season before they return as strong as ever in 2015, it's not hard to see how that same injury combined with a rushed return can do the trick. There's no guarantee that Buchholz would've been better in 2012 or 2014 if they'd taken it easy, but there's reason to suspect it, and certainly enough to at least suggest that, with 2015 being a lost cause, the Sox should be as safe as possible when it comes to working Buchholz back into things.

This doesn't mean he shouldn't pitch again in 2015, mind. That's a bit dramatic. The current plan seems to have him out for a few weeks, not months. But it would make plenty of sense for the Red Sox to limit Buchholz' workload for the rest of the year. An actual rehab assignment in Triple-A, no 110-pitch outings, maybe even a skipped start in the middle. If ever there was a pitcher to use the kid gloves on, it's Clay Buchhoulz. And if a midseason injury in 2015 draws eerie parallels with 2011 and 2013, there's no reason it has to result in the same sort of disaster seasons that followed those.