Buchholz's short night leads to Sox loss
Righty optioned to Double-A after rough outing against O's
BALTIMORE -- Call Wednesday night a complete loss for Clay Buchholz. First went the four-run lead the Red Sox had built for the right-hander entering the bottom of the second inning. Then went the game, an 11-6 defeat to the Orioles. And then, what was an all but inevitable trip to manager Terry Francona's office.
Just moments after Buchholz's latest evening of mound exasperation had ended, Francona and pitching coach John Farrell optioned the highly-talented right-hander to Double-A Portland.
There wasn't much choice, and Buchholz knew it. Not after he went just 2 1/3 innings, following his previous three-inning shellacking in Chicago.
"I hate to say it's the right decision, but I believe it was," said Buchholz, who is 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA. "It's never good to say I expected to get sent down. But the last couple of starts, it's hard to think they could give me anymore opportunities than they have in this stretch -- especially with only a month and a half left in the season and the pennant race as close as it is right now."
Fortunately for the Red Sox (73-54), Tampa Bay also lost, keeping the deficit in the American League East at 4 1/2 games. But the Twins won, slicing Boston's lead in the Wild Card standings to a half-game.
The Red Sox are 3-12 in Buchholz's 15 starts, and 70-42 when anyone else starts
In this one, Buchholz gave up three hits and five runs while walking three and striking out none. He threw 60 pitches, 30 of which were strikes.
"I think we felt like we need to give him a little bit of a new start, because it's obviously not working right now," said Francona. "I think we all believe strongly that it will work. At the moment, it's difficult."
With off-days on Thursday and Monday, and Tim Wakefield expected to return from the disabled list soon, the Red Sox won't need to find a replacement in the rotation for Buchholz. A corresponding roster move will be made to replace Buchholz before Friday night's game in Toronto.
In recent weeks, the Red Sox have tried everything in an effort to get a reversal of fortune from Buchholz.
First, they sent him to Triple-A, giving him almost two months to focus in a less-stressful environment. Since his return in mid-July, Francona and Farrell both spent extra hours on various days talking to the talented right-hander in hopes of keeping his confidence afloat. They gave him a nine-day break between starts, hoping that would help from both a physical and mental standpoint.
But it all went for naught, as was clear for all to see on Wednesday night.
"I've never had a streak like this," said Buchholz. "It's sort of hard for me to describe what I'm going through. You can pretty much, everything you see on the field, that's basically what it amounts to. It's hard times right now."
The 24-year-old pitcher, who threw a no-hitter against the Orioles (61-65) last Sept. 1, has been unable to get anything going.
"The biggest thing to me is last year was a lot easier," said Buchholz. "I hadn't been around. You get a couple of starts under your belt, and everyone knows who you are and knows what you've got. It overtook everything I was doing last year, which was just going out and throwing and not thinking too much. This year, I'd have headaches after the second inning, I was trying to think so hard."
This one slipped away in a hurry, as Buchholz simply didn't have command.
"What's kind of hard to understand is he had as good a stuff as I've seen," Francona said. "Power on his fastball. I just think that there's some reasons why you have to send a guy out. We had a 4-0 lead and he shook to get to a changeup on a 3-1 count. It got away. Unfortunately, what made it worse is when we went to the bullpen, it got away worse."
David Aardsma tried to rescue Buchholz in the third, but was greeted by a three-run homer from Ramon Hernandez that center fielder Coco Crisp came just inches from bringing back into the park. Instead, Crisp fell into the bullpen without the baseball. Lefty specialist Javy Lopez, pitching in an unfamiliar role in the fourth, gave up a three-run homer to Melvin Mora.
"It was close," said Crisp. "It couldn't have been more than six inches. It was a good try. Well-hit ball, good attempt, tried to catch it. I just couldn't reach out far enough."
The Red Sox ran so low on pitchers that position player Alex Cora nearly pitched the bottom of the eighth. Cora warmed up in the bullpen, but after Boston cut the deficit back to five runs in the top of the inning, Francona felt obligated to bring back lefty Hideki Okajima -- the only Boston pitcher of the night not to give up a run -- for a second inning of work.
"If we wouldn't have scored, we probably would have [brought Cora in]," Francona said. "Like I said, felt an obligation when we scored. We're trying to make a game of it. You see Coco jump over a wall like that, and again, you appreciate AC going out there, but that's a tough one because we're not down 10. We were swinging the bats. It was a tough decision."
The same could not be said of the decision to send Buchholz to the Minors. The reason Buchholz is going to Double-A instead of Triple-A is so he can be reunited with Portland pitching coach Mike Cather. Buchholz has worked with Cather probably more than any other coach in the organization.
Buchholz will now try to regroup after Wednesday's abbreviated outing.
"It was pretty bad," said Buchholz. "When our team scores six runs, we should win every time with the guys we have on our pitching staff. It is what it is. People have tough games. I've had a tough year. It's hard to swallow right now."
If anything, Buchholz sounded grateful that the Red Sox gave him as many opportunities as they did.
"I've never been one to say the pressure was too much for me, but I've felt like I've had a lot of weight on my shoulders just trying to be perfect and trying to do everything as well as I could to help this team win," Buchholz said. "I haven't been doing it near good enough. I knew the decision was coming and had to be made soon. They've given me ample opportunity to help this team and to help myself up here, and it just hasn't worked out."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.