Clay Buchholz has spent parts of the last three seasons in Pawtucket where he has undoubtedly benefitted from the tutelage of pitching coaches Rich Sauveur and Mike Griffin.
But as it turns out, the 25-year-old pitcher could have learned a few things from spending more time with the PawSox radio guys.
Allow me to explain.
Buchholz showed up for spring training this year with 13 pounds added to his skinny frame.
“It’s always a goal in the off-season but sometimes it doesn’t work out the way I want it to,” Clay told me in Ft, Myers. “I tried to eat a lot more – that’s basically what it was. I tried to stay on a three-meals-a-day routine, whether I was hungry or not. Just try to put something in front of my face and eat it.”
After hearing that, I told Clay that during his stints with the PawSox, he could have easily learned how to gain weight by going out after games for chicken wings and pizza with Steve Hyder and me.
“Especially Hyder,” Buchholz said with a laugh. “He actually looks really good from the first time that I ever saw him so that’s awesome for him, but yea, if I ever do make it back down to Pawtucket, I’m definitely going to be eating with you guys.”
Clay spent the first 3 ½ months of last season with the PawSox and reestablished himself as one of the best young pitching prospects in baseball by going 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 17 outings. In one five-game stretch, Buchholz allowed 2 ER in 33.2 IP (0.53 ERA), culminating with a one-hit shutout on May 25th at Louisville.
Clay joined the Red Sox rotation after the All-Star break and went 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 16 starts. If you remove three bad outings in which Buchholz allowed 7 earned runs in each game, his ERA was 2.53 in his remaining 13 starts for Boston.
As a result, Clay was picked to start Game 3 of Boston’s playoff series against the Los Angeles Angels. After the Angels beat Jon Lester and Josh Beckett in the first two games, Buchholz left Game 3 with a 5-2 lead in the sixth inning, only to see Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon surrender five runs in the final two innings in a 7-6 loss that ended the Red Sox season.
“It was a boost for my confidence,” Buchholz said. “I think the Angels had one guy batting under .300 so I knew going into the game that it was going to be a tough start. I was a little nervous going into that game but at the same time, I tried to treat it as just another game and went out there and said, ‘If I throw the best that I can throw, I think we have a good chance to win.’ I felt like I did pretty well but the game didn’t turn out the way we wanted. I felt like it was a really productive season and something to build off of. I’m confident and ready to go.”
Despite his success, Buchholz is not guaranteed a spot in the Red Sox starting rotation in 2010. With high-priced free agent John Lackey added to pitching staff, Clay is one of six starters battling for five spots in the starting rotation.
“You’ve got the top three guys (Lester, Beckett, Lackey), then Dice-K, and then Wake and myself,” Buchholz told me. “It’s going to be a tough thing to break into for sure just because of the potential that this starting rotation has to be really good. Wake’s been here for a long time and I’ve got a feeling that if we both go out and have good springs that he’s going to get the benefit of the doubt. So I have to be better than him to make this squad and that’s hard to do for a guy that’s been in this game as long as he has and knows how to deal with the situations that he’s been through. But at the same time, I’m going to go out and pitch, have fun, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Sounds like a little added pressure to go with the added pounds.
“He’s really taken it very seriously this winter,” general manager Theo Epstein told reporters. “He looks to be in great shape and has really strengthened his core. He’s prepared himself. He’s at an advantaged stage as opposed to where most guys are at this point. With his frame, it’s always been a battle to add a little bit of mass. This is the most progress he’s had in that regard.”
“I packed on a couple of pounds knowing that I’m going to lose some weight in spring training when it gets hot and humid,” Buchholz said. “I want to be able to pitch at 190 pounds and I’ve got about eight pounds to get down to that. I feel pretty good.”