Ability to adjust gives Buchholz boost
Hurler shakes off first two frames to hold Twins in check
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Clay Buchholz was having a little "here we go again" moment early on in Sunday's start against the Twins. While it's true that it is the Grapefruit League and not the regular season, Buchholz was at the point in camp where he needed a bit of a confidence booster.
Five days earlier, the righty had been pounded by these same Twins, giving up four hits and five earned runs over just 1 1/3 innings. And this time, he gave up two runs in the first frame and two more in the second.
But just when things could have gone the other way, Buchholz managed to regain some confidence, doing so by regaining the command of his fastball and driving it toward the lower portion of the strike zone.
The righty retired the last eight batters he faced in the Red Sox's 11-5 victory before handing the ball to manager Terry Francona with two outs in the top of the fifth.
"The way it ended is really what I was excited about," said Buchholz. "I think I only threw 35, 36 pitches in the last three innings that I was out there. It was definitely a step in the right direction for the season and my confidence also."
Statistically speaking, it hasn't been a great spring for Buchholz. He has given up 13 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings in Grapefruit League action. But the Red Sox aren't worried about Buchholz's stats in Spring Training.
Buchholz proved in the second half of last season, not to mention his start in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, that he has what it takes to succeed in the Major Leagues.
What they want from him now is a consistently strong mental approach, which isn't always easy for a young pitcher. Buchholz is 25 years old and still has just 190 2/3 Major League innings under his belt.
"I think sometimes he tries to be too fine," said Francona. "Then he gets himself down in the count or he's thinking about other things. When he attacks the strike zone down, things usually have a way of working out without having to think about 50 different things. If he simplifies it, his stuff is so good."
"Whenever I get in trouble, I'm always thinking about the pitch that I just threw and not the next pitch," said Buchholz. "You want to keep a short memory with it, because you can make a bad pitch and then make a worse pitch and then give up a two-run homer instead of getting an out with the pitch prior. You can get yourself into some trouble like that. I've gotten a little bit better with forgetting about the results of the last hitter and going about my business."
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There was a moment on Sunday when Buchholz stopped thinking and started pitching. It happened when he made just the pitch he wanted, getting the dangerous Joe Mauer to ground out to short to open the third. Two innings earlier, Buchholz had surrendered a two-run, opposite-field homer to Mauer.
"I just wanted to make a pitch down," said Buchholz. "[I threw] a two-seamer away and got it down, and fortunately he hit a ground ball. He's one of the toughest outs in baseball. Any time I get him out, I don't care how he gets out, as long as he's out. If not, he usually does what he did the first time. That was sort of the turning point of the outing for me. I gained a little bit of confidence from that at-bat and threw the ball pretty well throughout the last two innings."
Though Buchholz is in the rotation for the start of the season, his situation isn't completely secure, because there will be a logjam once Daisuke Matsuzaka returns from the disabled list, which could be at some point in April.
If Buchholz ends up being the odd man out, he wants to make it as hard a decision as possible for the Red Sox, which is probably one reason he still feels that each Spring Training outing is important for him.
"They're big," said Buchholz. "They're big for anybody that struggled in a previous outing. Going out there and not really putting pressure on yourself, but saying, 'OK, well I want to do this,' and if it doesn't happen, obviously anybody is going to feel down about it.
"This was definitely a good finish to the outing. Like I said, it didn't start out well. It could have went a lot worse than it did. I was able to slow down a little bit and get under control and throw some strikes."
Buchholz has one last tuneup on Friday against the Nationals, and he will make his first regular-season start on April 11 at Kansas City.
"I thought he did a great job of adjusting," said Francona. "He started out, they had some pretty solid contact. Fastball was up a little bit. Then he made the adjustment. He drove the fastball down -- which sets up all the rest of his pitches -- and did a good job. You can see when he's down and he's attacking the strike zone, it sets everything else up. He gets the swings and misses on the changeup. He did a good job making the adjustment."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.