Windy day blows Buchholz out early
Starters struggles continue, giving up three jacks in three-plus
CHICAGO -- With wind whipping in his face, Clay Buchholz was hoping a nasty arsenal of pitches could offset the elements. In fact, what he really wanted to do was fix all that had ailed him since his return from Triple-A Pawtucket. Instead, Buchholz's slump only got deeper, as he was pulled with nobody out in the bottom of the fourth inning in Sunday afternoon's 6-5 loss to the White Sox.
On a day the Windy City truly lived up to its moniker, the Red Sox couldn't find enough answers.
At times, the wind helped -- most notably, Mike Lowell lofted what almost looked like a harmless fly ball to left with two outs in the top of the first. That drive just kept carrying for a three-run homer. It was Lowell's first homer since July 4. What seemed like such a great start for Boston proved to be all for naught.
"I hit it good," said Lowell. "I just hit it so high. I was hoping. It was a good feeling to see it go over the fence. We kind of gave it back pretty quick. You don't really want to see that."
The Red Sox also don't want to see their deficit in the American League East mount. But after this loss, they fell to 4 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay, marking the most the Boston has trailed since July 6, when it was five games back.
Considering how things had gone for Buchholz, being able to pocket a three-spot before he even threw a pitch seemed to be the perfect remedy.
But nothing is going right for the 23-year-old righty, who is 0-5 with a 7.42 ERA in six starts since his recall from the Minors on July 11.
Losses are hard enough for Buchholz to swallow when he knows he is missing his spots. But adding to his frustration Sunday is that he felt the White Sox hit some pretty good pitches.
"Same story but I actually felt like I threw the pitches -- made the pitches today -- and they got hit," said Buchholz, who is 2-8 with a 6.32 ERA.
If not for some extenuating circumstances -- Tim Wakefield will be placed on the disabled list on Tuesday and Bartolo Colon still has some starts left on his Minor League rehab -- Buchholz might have been in danger of losing his spot in the rotation. But the Red Sox are likely to ride it out with him, for now.
"We're already trying to fill Wake's [spot]," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I haven't talked about it. We have not talked about that. That's about as honest as I can be. I think more of our energy and thoughts is going into how do we get this kid pitching like we know he can on a consistent basis."
The way Buchholz (three-plus innings, seven hits, five runs, three homers) struggled, the three-run cushion proved not to be nearly enough. Jermaine Dye belted a solo shot to left to lead off the second. That was a prelude to Chicago's four-run barrage in the third, which included two-run homers from Carlos Quentin and Jim Thome.
"I just think, and we keep saying it, but experience is going to be big for this kid. Right now he's experiencing just about everything," Francona said. "He's experiencing a lot and hopefully digesting it fast."
When the first two batters reached in the bottom of the fourth, Buchholz was removed in favor of David Aardsma. The White Sox extended their lead to 6-3 in the fifth on a fielder's-choice grounder to third by Juan Uribe that Lowell made a nifty bare-hand on and fired to the plate. Because Lowell had no time to set himself, the throw was low, and catcher Jason Varitek couldn't handle it.
The Red Sox didn't go down easy. J.D. Drew led off the sixth with a triple to center and scored on Jason Bay's one-out single up the middle.
Sean Casey kept it going with a single to center, setting up runners at the corners with one out. Varitek struck out for the second out, but the pitch sailed by A.J. Pierzynski for a wild pitch, and Bay roared home to cut the deficit to a run.
"I thought today, we came out of the gate with energy," Francona said. "I thought we ended with energy. We just couldn't push that tying run across. We did everything we could. We couldn't get that run across."
The best chance, by far, came in the top of the seventh. Lowell was at the plate with the bases loaded and one out. But Octavio Dotel made the pitch he had to, and Lowell hit into a rally-killing, 5-4-3 double play.
"Guy throwing hard, threw me a good pitch." said Lowell. "It sunk. I'm not trying to hit a double play, but that's the result. Not really much to say."
But there was one bright spot on the day for Boston. Rookie Justin Masterson turned in a dominant effort, giving up just one hit over 2 2/3 innings, walking none and striking out five.
"My goal was to keep the game within range. That's what I thought I did," Masterson said. "I'm feeling comfortable pitching. I'm just happy to be out there when it's my day."
Still, there is the matter of Buchholz figuring it out on his day.
"He's not being as efficient as he wants to. I think his pace of game has to improve," said Lowell. "I don't know if he's thinking too much. I'd kind of prefer him to just go out there and fire because he's got good stuff."
What does Buchholz have to do to turn that good stuff into good results?
"I don't know," said Lowell. "I don't know what it is. You root for him. You feel bad, especially when you're spotted a three-run lead before he takes the mound. You kind of want him to hold the fort down. He's not going to throw a shutout.
"It's that consistency thing. It's everyone. It's the pitcher, it's us as hitters. I think that's what we look for. We look for consistency. If you're not consistent at the plate, you're not going to get hits. And when you're not throwing strikes where you need to, you're not going to get outs. It sounds so simple, but it's not that easy."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.