Buchholz proves he's ready for Majors
In spot start, Sox's top pitching prospect keeps Jays at bay
TORONTO -- It was just a one-day pass back to the Major Leagues, but Clay Buchholz provided convincing proof that once he returns, it might be for good.
Looking nothing like the overwhelmed prospect who was admittedly shell-shocked last year, Buchholz was sharp and in control, leading the Red Sox to a 4-1 victory over the Blue Jays on Friday night at Rogers Centre.
Boston's top pitching prospect, Buchholz held the Jays to four hits and one run over 5 2/3 innings, walking three and striking out three. He threw 103 pitches.
"He was so good," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We optioned him back after the game, which he knew was going to happen. Considering the circumstances and everything, I thought he had poise, I thought he had good stuff. He attacked with his fastball. He threw his changeup. He threw his breaking ball. He commanded the game. It's really gratifying for us. We've heard all the reports and we've seen him work. But then to see him do it tonight, that was a lot of fun for us."
Buchholz, 24, was given a one-day promotion so that All-Stars Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield could get additional rest heading into the second half. The Red Sox will activate shortstop Jed Lowrie before Saturday's game to replace Buchholz on the roster.
"I knew the situation before I came up," Buchholz said. "I'm just thankful for the opportunity to be here and play with these guys again. The starting rotation they have here right now is pretty unbelievable. It is what it is. It's not my timetable. I know where I want to be, and this is definitely it, but I'll bide some more time, go back to Pawtucket and maybe get a little bit of time off and when my next start comes, try to get better."
The trip back to the Major Leagues, albeit brief, had a sweet payoff for Buchholz in the form of his first win for the Red Sox since May 2, 2008.
"It feels like about three years ago," said Buchholz. "It was a good feeling. It's good to be back up here and be able to have the confidence coming into this game and leaving with the same confidence I came into the game with. It's a good thing."
If Buchholz continues on the path he's been on all year, he figures to re-emerge in Boston's pitching plans in the not too distant future.
"Under a lot of circumstances, he'd probably be pitching for us now," Francona said. "He's not, and organizationally, that's good. I know it's hard on him. We understand that. He's handled it like you would hope. It's not easy sometimes for young guys, but he's worked hard and he's got a great attitude and we're proud of him."
It was the sixth career win for Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 1, 2007.
Kevin Youkilis gave the Red Sox just the type of early spark they were looking for, ripping a two-run homer to left in the first to give Buchholz some breathing room before he even threw a pitch.
"I took a big sigh of relief when Youk hit that home run," said Buchholz. "You can relax a little bit more when you're up. You can't relax too much, because two hits can put it back into a tie game. It felt good pitching with a lead. I knew coming out here these guys would score some runs. I was ready to get back out here and let it go again and hopefully I'll be back soon."
The blast by Youkilis -- No. 17 on the season -- came against losing pitcher Ricky Romero, who fell to 0-2 with a 9.72 ERA lifetime against Boston.
"Youk got a fastball early and gave us the lead, which is a good way to play, because Romero has one of the best left-handed changeups in the game," said Francona.
After handling the Jays over his first three innings, Buchholz got into some trouble in the fourth. A double by Lyle Overbay set up runners at second and third with one out, setting up Alex Rios for a sacrifice fly to center.
But the Red Sox wasted no time off-setting that run, as David Ortiz belted a two-run double off the wall in left to make it 4-1 Sox in the top of the fifth.
From there, Buchholz and the bullpen took it home.
With two on and two outs in the sixth, Francona came out and got Buchholz. The man who replaced him was yet another Red Sox young gun with an electric arm in Daniel Bard. The rookie struck out Jose Bautista to end the sixth and then mowed Toronto down 1-2-3 in the seventh.
Hideki Okajima worked a scoreless eighth and Jonathan Papelbon came on for save No. 24 in the ninth.
All in all, it was a nice way for the second half to start for the 55-34 Red Sox.
"You come back sometimes and you're a step slower," said Francona. "I think that all of the things we talked about -- having Buck pitch, we looked crisp. A lot of that is because Buck came out and just pitched good. We had some timely hitting."
Though Buchholz won't be around by the time the Red Sox take the field on Saturday, he gave them something to think about should they need him again down the stretch.
"He was awesome," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "He threw every pitch in any count. You could tell he was frustrating those guys. Plus, he's got 95 [mph], too. His stuff -- he's got four quality pitches. When he throws them for strikes and commands them, he's pretty tough to beat."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.