Buchholz, out since June 17 with a stress fracture in his back, faced a quartet of September call-ups in Joey Gathright, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway and Lars Anderson. The simulated game went about as well as the Red Sox could have hoped. Buchholz reported no pain after throwing at what he estimated at 85 percent intensity.
“Location wasn’t what it should be, which is expected, but the ball’s coming out of my hand and no problem with the back. It felt good,” said Buchholz. “Everything was fine. Trying to not compensate for anything and finish my delivery like I normally would.”
Buchholz looked smooth, and he said he was able to throw all of his pitches. Two of the hitters who faced him saw a pitcher that didn’t look as if he hasn’t faced live batters in three months.
“The cutter into me, the two-seamer away, changeup to start, a couple of curveballs — everything was electric,” said Anderson.
“A few pitches got away, but that’s understandable; he’s just coming back. Velocity was there, command was there, movement with all his pitches,” Gathright said. “It was fun for him I’m guessing, not for us. Everything looked like it was there. He should be ready soon.”
One of the brighter spots for Buchholz had to be the command he displayed with his two-seamer and cutter — pitches he expected would take longer for him to control than his four-seamer and changeup. They certainly looked sharp, especially to the left-handed hitters.
“It looked good,” Gathright said of the cutter that drew multiple swings and misses during the brief simulated game. “He obviously needs to hone it down and get everything back to where he wants it. The movement that he needed today was there for somebody who hadn’t pitched in a while. From now, you take the positives and keep moving forward. Everything was moving and had some kind of depth to it.”
“[They] felt pretty good,” said Buchholz of the cutter and two-seamer. “Location is a big thing with those two pitches. If you start the cutter middle and it stays on the plate, it’s a pitch they can hit. It’s a pitch that you want to start off the plate and run it off or off the plate and run it on. It’s the same thing with the two-seamer. It’s tough getting that feel back for those two pitches. Hopefully with the time we’ve got I’ll be able to get that feel.”
Buchholz will throw another simulated game either Thursday or Friday, depending on the availability at Yankee Stadium.
The intrigue surrounding Buchholz’s simulated game speaks to how crucial his recovery is to what Boston hopes to do if it reaches the postseason. Starting again appears unrealistic. When asked if he could pitch in the final series of the year, Buchholz inferred he meant as a starter, saying, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to build up to throw five innings.”
Of course, it isn’t as if Boston’s healthy starters can be counted on for five innings these days. That’s a mark they’ve reached only 11 times in 20 September games, including Tuesday night.
But even if he comes back only to help the Red Sox bullpen, Buchholz could provide a tremendous lift. The number of reliable relievers in the Boston pen has shrunk over the last two months.
Buchholz has the potential to be like Alfredo Aceves out of the pen: an innings-eater with starters’ stuff. If used as a reliever, he can help bridge the gap to Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon — no small task in October.
Of course, Buchholz’s participation this year remains conditional — on his health and on Boston holding off the Rays over the final eight days of the season.