Buchholz draws inspiration from Smoltz
Young hurler soaking in veteran righty's advice like a sponge
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Clay Buchholz not only took the mound with a purpose on Tuesday, but also with a great level of conviction gained from a pregame chat with a man who has a strong chance of being in the Hall of Fame one day.
While John Smoltz's main purpose in coming to the Red Sox is to pitch, and to win, he has also been readily available for any young pitcher looking for some pointers.
Buchholz has been soaking in Smoltz's words like a sponge, and after Tuesday's heart-to-heart, he went out and fired three perfect innings against the Orioles, striking out two.
"I definitely felt good. It was the best outing I've had in a long time," said Buchholz. "I was talking to John Smoltz before the game and he was like, 'Hey, go out there and know what you want to do prior to even warming up and everything.' That's probably the most confident I've been.
"But I do believe that anybody that goes out there and is getting outs whenever they're throwing the right pitch, it's easy to pitch that way. It's when adversity strikes, like in between those [good] innings, when you know what kind of pitcher you are."
And despite his gaudy resume, Smoltz was also able to tell Buchholz that he can relate to what it is like to struggle.
"He said he feels like he's been in the same position as me before, earlier in his career, as far as people telling you, 'Hey, you've got really good stuff. You've just got to learn how to use it,'" said Buchholz. "That's basically what we've talked about the couple of times we sat down. He's just saying, 'You're going to be able to pitch for a long time if you do everything right.' It's the process of doing things right that you need to do to succeed."
Buchholz, 24, gets a kick out of seeing what type of competitor Smoltz still is after all these years. In two weeks, Smoltz, who had surgery last June, will start a throwing program. The venerable right-hander expects to be in Boston's rotation on or around June 1.
"It's a great thing to have anybody of that caliber being able to come to you and talk to you on a day-to-day basis about the struggles that he went through," Buchholz said. "It seems weird, but 18 years ago, I was about 5 years old. The guy is still playing. He's champing at the bit to get on a mound. He's always making comments like, 'I can't wait until I'm back out there and throwing.'
"You just see how much determination that guy has to play this game for as long as he has and still wanting to play it. He's just a big asset to the team, I believe. To the young guys -- me, [Justin] Masterson, [Michael] Bowden -- you just have to be all ears when you're listening to him. That's what I've tried to do, take it all in and not let it seep out and take it for what it's worth, coming from one of the greatest pitchers in the game, sitting there talking to you letting you know how to do things and how he did things."
As for Buchholz and how he is doing things this spring, he's had a solid start to camp. He looks nothing like the overwhelmed pitcher who went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in 2008.
"A 180-degree turn," Buchholz said. "I feel relaxed. I feel I have some confidence going out there, where last year -- where I was -- my mind was just an array of thoughts. I didn't even know what I was thinking. I told John today, 'There [were] a couple of times last year I was on the mound and I didn't even know what I was thinking.' I was like, 'All right, throw the pitch that he calls.' And that's where I was at. That's how [cluttered] my mind was. You can't be like that to compete at this level. Slowly but surely, it's getting better and I feel more comfortable and more confident."
The one thing not in Buchholz's favor is the numbers game. The Red Sox have Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny lined up for the rotation, though the latter might create an opening by starting the season a little late.
"It's in the organization's hands. I feel I've gone out and showed them that I worked in the offseason, that I did whatever I needed to do to get better to be a part of this team," said Buchholz. "They went out and they got some guys that they're going to depend on. I think I'm sort of, maybe, a backup plan as of right now, and if not, that fifth spot in the rotation is there for me if they give me the call."
The Red Sox like what Buchholz is showing them.
"I thought it was a really good step," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He threw kind of a power changeup. He threw some really good ones, and he followed them up and he repeated it. I thought he threw three really good innings."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.