The Buck Stops Here. . .At Least For Now

How good does Clay Buchholz look right now?

We’re talking Pedro Martinez Circa 1999.

Yea I know, it’s not the major leagues and it’s a small sample size (6 starts, 35 IP), but there is no doubt in my mind that the kid who threw a no-hitter in his second big league start is absolutely, unequivocally, 100% back.

Let’s return to the Pedro comparison.

                           W/L       ERA      OPP BA      WHIP      K/9 IP 

Pedro ’99:             23-4       2.07       .205            0.92         13.2

Buchholz ’09:         2-0        1.03       .130            0.74           9.5                                                                                 

To me, opponent batting average and WHIP (walk + hits per innings pitched) provide the best indication of how dominant Buchholz has been this season.  He’s rarely working out of jams because there’s nobody on base.

By pitching 8 scoreless innings on Wednesday in a 1-0, 10-inning loss at Toledo, Clay increased his shutout streak to 21.1 innings (the PawSox record is 27.2 IP by Rob Woodward in 1986).

His 11 strikeouts were a new Triple-A high (his personal best is 12 K’s at Double-A Portland in 5.2 IP in 2007) and by my count 5 whiffs came on changeups.

That pitch was so nasty against the Mud Hens that at one point, Toledo’s long-time radio man Jim Weber poked his head into our booth and asked me if it was a screwball.

Oddly enough, I had asked Clay on the pre-game show if he felt his changeup was back to its 2007 effectiveness.

“Mechanically last year it was a little off,” Buchholz told me.  “I was cutting it and it was cutting a whole lot so it was more like a slider than a changeup and the spin was different.  Now it’s a straight 4-seam fastball spin, and if I’m throwing my fastball low-to-mid 90′s, it’s a 78 mile-an-hour pitch.  So it’s definitely a good pitch with the same arm action and I do feel really good throwing it right now in any situation.”

So what now?

Buchholz is clearly ready for another shot in Boston, but barring a trade or injury, it’s hard to project when he’s going to get his opportunity.  Especially when you consider that Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Smoltz are waiting in the wings. 

Dice-K will make his third rehab start for Pawtucket on Friday and then is expected to return to the Red Sox rotation (allowing Justin Masterson to go back to the bullpen).

Smoltz threw a side session in Florida on Wednesday and is expected to pitch a couple of innings in an extended spring game on Friday.  He’s hoping to be in the Red Sox rotation by the end of June.

That means Clay is likely to make his next start at McCoy Stadium and not Fenway Park.

Is Manager Ron Johnson worried about Buchholz getting stale in the minor leagues?

“Not Buck,” RJ told me.  “I spend a lot of time on issues like that and it’s almost like the kids say, ‘Let’s keep it real.’  He’s a professional and this is where his job takes him right now.  It’s like a guy who does anything — an electrician or a guy who follows storms or whatever – this is where his job is right now.  The decision to be made on where his job takes him is out of his control.  I had a long talk with him and I really believe that his mentality and maturity is the reason why he will get back to Boston and be successful for a long time because of the way he is handling this right now.”

To his credit, Buchholz isn’t complaining about being in Triple-A.

“RJ called me into the office and said, ‘I don’t want you to start feeling sorry for yourself and start pouting.’  I said, ‘You know me, I’m playing baseball so I’m alright.’  If it’s September and I don’t get called up then maybe we’ll start talking about how sorry I feel for myself.  It is what it is.  There’s a logjam up there and there are a lot of guys even on this team that probably should be in the big leagues but there’s nowhere to go in this organization right now.  That’s how good the players are that we have.  It’s fun to be in an organization like that, but there are ups and downs with it too.”

As a former major league manager once told a player who was being sent to the minor leagues, “It’s nothing personal — it’s personnel.”

* * * * *

We played “PawSox Who Am I?” on “Stump Steve” during Wednesday’s broadcast.

Ready?

1.  I was the 4th overall pick in the 1984 draft (Hydes guessed Roger Clemens).

2.  I spent 9 years in the big leagues with the Dodgers, Giants, Indians, Blue Jays and White Sox, but not necessarily in that order (he guessed Jose Offerman).

3.  In my first 3 major league seasons, I hit 24, 33, and 26 home runs (he tried Jon Nunnally).

4.  I played on the first US Olympic baseball team in 1984 with the likes of Mark McGwire, Will Clark, and Barry Larkin (no guess).

5.  In 1987 when Indiana beat Syracuse for the national championship in basketball, that story only received a small photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  The main cover photo of that issue featured me and Joe Carter in front of a Chief Wahoo logo calling the Cleveland Indians the best team in the American League in the baseball preview issue.

Hydes gave up.  The correct answer is Cory Snyder.

Steve falls to 12-14 this season.

* * * * *

Game 7 of the 8-game road trip is coming up on Thursday night at 6:30.  I hope you’ll join us for the radio call beginning with the pre-game show at 6:15 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

1 Comment

Memo to Terry Francona and Theo Epstein:
Do not – repeat DO NOT – throw away Clay Buchholz. You are playing with matches, and liable to make another classic Red Sox mistake, akin to the dumping of Sparky Lyle, more recenty Bronson Arroyo and Kayson Gabbard, and Lord knows how many others.
This kid is going to be an All Star for the next dozen or so years. It would be sheer insanity to discourage him to the point where he’ll run through the first door marked ‘Exit” that looms up in front of him. If Scott Boras isn’t already Buchholz’s agent, be assured he will pounce, and the cat will be out of the bag. Brad Penny and John Smoltz are tempting possibilities, maybe even probabilities – but they aren’t fireballers in their 20s with a world of stuff and an attitude to match. Keeping Clay Buchholz is a no-brainer – which is precisely why I fear the Red Sox, stubbornly committed to “doing things our way,” have blinders on regarding this dilemma; it’s a dilemma virtually every other team in the majors would be delighted to ave.

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