8 innings. 2 earned runs. 2 walks. 7 strike outs.
Chew on that.
Clay Buchholz has been worse than bad in 2012. His ERA, even with last night’s dominating performance, is a robust 6.58. It wouldn’t be a huge deal if Buchholz was still a back-end of the rotation kid, still feeling his way in the big leagues. But he’s not. The Texas native is 27-years old. Heading into the season, many Boston baseball people agreed that it would be the performances of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and especially Buchholz that would ultimately determine whether the Red Sox would sink or swim. Buchholz has been absent, often the first nomination by fans and media members to take a trip to Triple-A Pawtucket. It would be an understatement to say that Buchholz has not pitched well this year. He’s been downright miserable.
But not last night.
It was the first inning, and Buchholz was in yet another tight spot. Kelly Johnson reached base on a catcher’s interference call. The supremely underrated Yunel Escobar hit a chopper to shortstop Mike Aviles in the hole who moved to his right and booted it. It certainly was not a taylor-made double play ball, but Aviles surely would have been able to cut down Johnson at second. Instead of there being one out and a man on first, Buchholz was now forced to deal with two guys on and Jose Bautista coming to the dish. Buchholz opened with three straight pitches out of the strike zone to Bautista. He battled back and ultimately struck out the dangerous righty.
After the game, it was clear that Buchholz understood the importance of that strike out.
“That’s the time when he [Bautista] rises to the occasion, hits a homer, hits a double, and clears the bags. That was a big part of the game for me,” Buchholz said. “That was just a steppingstone to get to the next inning and go out there with a little bit of confidence.’’
Buch was far from out of it as Edwin Encarnacion brought his 17 home runs and 42 RBIs to the plate. The slender righty induced a ground ball to shortstop. Aviles atoned for his mistake earlier in the inning by starting a crisp 6-4-3 double play. Inning over, damage averted.
Buchholz was able to pitch successfully with runners on-base and wiggle out of a tight spot that he did not create. He went on throw seven more strong innings. It was an encouraging sign for a hurler who has struggled mightily thus far.
For Buchholz, it’s about restoring confidence in himself. And last night was a big step in the right direction.