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03/13/10 4:30 PM ET

Buchholz not worrying about competition

Young rotation hopeful more focused on his own improvement

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Clay Buchholz has been reminded enough times about the tricky math -- six starting pitchers, five spots -- facing him that he's not likely to forget it any time soon.

The Buchholz of the past may have dwelled on it, perhaps even carried it with him to the mound. The 2010 version of Buchholz, however, doesn't seem to let it bother him. He simply went out and put up three scoreless innings against the Pirates on Saturday afternoon.

"It has opportunities to be there," Buchholz said about the possible anxiety over roster spots. "I think with the way last year ended, that stepping stone I took, getting to pitch in the postseason, coming into Spring Training feeling good, being healthy for the most part ... coming in with confidence from last year takes all the stress away from me.

"It's always going to be there. There's always going to be that question mark with the six guys, when Dice-K gets back, what's going to happen. It won't be the last time we'll have that."

There might be a brief respite as Daisuke Matsuzaka's return keeps getting pushed back. Slated to throw live batting practice on a back field on Saturday morning, Matsuzaka's session was scratched when he had some neck stiffness while warming up. With it becoming less and less likely Matsuzaka will be ready for Opening Day, Buchholz appears to have at least a tenuous hold on a rotation spot. Matsuzaka's -- or anyone else's for that matter -- status is not something that is entering Buchholz's conscious right now. The minute he starts worrying about others is the minute he loses sight of his ultimate objective.

"That's the least of my worries right now," Buchholz said. "I want to be on this team for the duration of this whole season. Two and half months isn't going to mean that much if something happens that I don't do my job and end up in the same spot I was in last year. I'm going to keep working regardless of how many starters there are in line right now. I'm just going to do the stuff I have to do and everything will take care of itself."

He took care of things pretty nicely against the Pirates on Saturday. Buchholz allowed just one hit, a leadoff single to Jeff Clement in the second, and a walk in the same inning. In his first start of the spring, Buchholz focused mostly on his fastball and changeup. In this 28-pitch outing, he was able to mix in all of his pitches, and for the most part, did so successfully.

"It was definitely an improvement over the last time out," Buchholz said. "I threw a couple of curveballs, a couple of sliders, mostly fastballs. It was a good day of work.

"There's always going to be something to work on in between each start here and the rest of the spring and even during the season."

More than working on his repertoire, Buchholz's biggest improvement has been in simply taking a deep breath and not letting things snowball on the mound. Like with many young players, Buchholz had a tendency to let things unravel, to speed up to the point of getting out of control. Late last year and into this spring, he's seemed much more even-keeled.

"I think that's the biggest step I've taken the past two years, was being able to slow down a little when things are a little wacky out there," Buchholz said. "Taking control, throwing the pitch I'm going to throw in that situation, rather than thinking about why this is happening. I think I've matured in that aspect of the game. I could still get better at it, but I think I've gotten a lot better the past two years."

"I think it's supposed to be that way," manager Terry Francona said before Buchholz's start. "If you have a year, half a year, under your belt, and you're stronger, you've pitched some games, I do think that's part of growing up.

"I think you see guys showing up to Spring Training, not only are they bigger and stronger, they look like it and act like it. Everything slows down for them, that's probably the best way to put it. I think there are times when guys come here and things are going 100 miles per hour. Then they get on the field, and by the time you get up, the at-bat's over. That's normal progress."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.