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Clay Buchholz’s frame of mind is concerning

Posted by Adam Kaufman  July 16, 2013 07:54 PM

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If Red Sox fans aren’t concerned about Clay Buchholz, they should be, and it’s not because of his neck strain.

In case you missed it, the injured All-Star pitcher took some time on Monday in New York to speak with the assembled media about the joys of being named among the league’s elite, and also his ongoing frustrations of related neck, shoulder, collarbone, and AC joint ailments that have limited him to just two starts since May 22 and none after June 8.

Some of the perceived ace’s comments were alarming, most notably that his team feels he’s ready to return to the mound, but he isn’t quite there.

“They said there’s really no risk,” Buchholz stated of pitching with the discomfort he experienced in Sunday’s 25-pitch bullpen session in Oakland. “But I just don’t feel comfortable doing it because I’ve never had to do it before.”

It’s hard not to think back to Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose’s comments, when the face of the franchise refused to take the court in the postseason because he wasn’t feeling 110 percent in his recovery from an ACL tear, even though doctors considered him healthy. Do you think you’d ever hear something like that from Rajon Rondo, Dustin Pedroia, or Logan Mankins? We can all assume what Patrice Bergeron and Gregory Campbell would be thinking.

This speaks to Buchholz’s mental make-up as a competitor.

It’s impossible to get inside his body and relate to how he’s feeling, but the overall message simply does not exude a burning desire to win. The 28-year-old injury-prone Buchholz went on to essentially say that if it was September he’d be trying a bit harder to get back on the field, and that he’s comforted in taking his time by the fact that Boston – first in the major leagues with 58 wins – is getting the job done without him at 30-20 since May 23.

Where to begin ...

First, Buchholz shouldn’t be publicizing his and the team’s alternate viewpoints, or suggesting that he’s content sitting back and enjoying the show. That's just idiotic, and it should be embarrassing. He has to give reporters something, sure, but that doesn’t have to be more than variations of, “I’m trying like hell to get back out there, and it’s killing me not being part of my team’s success.”

It’s certainly a testament to the Red Sox pitching staff that the club has maintained its position atop the American League largely without Buchholz and absent what Jon Lester historically provides, but that’s not something Buchholz should take solace in. That’s especially true with the trade deadline looming and the Sox wondering if they need another front-line starter because John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, and Felix Doubront – yes, you read that correctly – can only shoulder so much of the load. The Sox deserve to know where they stand with their best pitcher and right now that’s an irritating mystery.

Should Buchholz put his career in jeopardy in order to boast a few more August starts on his resume? Of course not, but the team’s medical staff is telling him such a scenario is of no concern. Countless MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays have revealed nothing more than inflammation while his strength tests have been positive. He’s a man with no restrictions other than the ones he’s opting to place on himself.

Say what you want about the ineffectiveness of Lester over the last two months – and I recently said a lot – but at least he’s on the field trying his hardest to work his way out of what’s now nearly a two-year slump. Buchholz has been incredible this season. He’s 9-and-0 in 12 starts with a 1.71 earned-run-average over 84.1 innings pitched; just imagine if he could (or would) stay on the diamond.

Buchholz long-tossed at Citi Field, but he won’t throw another bullpen session until at least Thursday. After that, he still wants to pitch a simulated game and then a minor league rehab start. Odds are, that amounts to an early-August return to the big leagues, at best, and it’s not like he hasn’t experienced delays and setbacks before. Heck, the original injury that began this circus – the collarbone discomfort from supposedly sleeping funny while cradling his daughter after a road trip in late-May – wasn’t expected to cost him more than a few days, let alone a turn in the rotation. To this point, he’s missed eight starts. With 65 games remaining in the regular season, we should all be ecstatic if he can make another 10.

If this had been the team saying Buchholz isn’t ready, I’d obviously wonder what’s taking so long but, honestly, I think I’d be fine with it. Tell ya the truth, I might even be in favor of their patience for the same reason he appears scared to return: the Red Sox will need him down the stretch and in the postseason. It’s the Rob Gronkowski theory.

That type of decision, however, should belong to the team. When it’s the player who starts deciding – physically uninhibited in the eyes of the club – whether or not he’s fit to play when he most certainly is needed, no matter how the standings read, that’s problematic. It may speak volumes of what the future looks like beyond 2013.

In the meantime, there’s no need to hear more about irritation, soreness, tightness, stiffness, inflammation, discomfort, or other ways of describing his pain. Buchholz says that he’s frustrated. Well, guess what, the Red Sox probably are by now as well. During the season, 100 percent simply doesn’t exist. A little case of mental paranoia is understandable after growing accustomed to suffering setbacks, but it’s literally part of Buchholz’s job to be more headstrong.

To outsiders, this situation was once supported by “playing it safe.” Now, many are accusing an undefeated All-Star of being soft, fragile, and lacking in heart. It’s time for him to do something about it.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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