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A striking change in Buchholz

More maturity means fewer K’s

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / June 9, 2010

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CLEVELAND — Over the last eight games, as Clay Buchholz has proven that he belongs among the leagues’ best, his strikeout numbers have been, well, pedestrian. He struck out seven against Minnesota and eight against Tampa Bay, two of the American League’s best teams. But in the other six games, Buchholz didn’t top four strikeouts.

Perhaps this is a sign of the maturing Buchholz, of the Buchholz learning how to work batters, how to remain in games longer, how to pitch.

“I think in the minor leagues, hitters, they go out of the strike zone a lot more,’’ Buchholz said. “I had a lot of strikeouts, but probably over half the strikeouts I’ve had were pitches out of the zone.

“Guys up here don’t swing, even with two strikes. They tend to make you throw a pitch in the dirt. You throw pitches in the zone, they’re going to get hit. I don’t think I’ve done anything different.

“I’ve always been told to take a three-pitch at-bat or a two-pitch at-bat, a one-pitch at-bat over a five- or six-pitch strikeout.

“Strikeouts are awesome. They’re fun to have under your name and everything. At the same time, you go deeper into games with less pitches you throw. It seems to work out a little bit more in your favor because you get in a rhythm more, you’re not throwing 25 pitches every inning. No disrespect to the strikeout.’’

This maturity was evident in his last start, against the Orioles. With a significant lead, which turned into an 11-0 shutout, Buchholz didn’t really give the Orioles chances to strike out. Instead, he challenged them in the zone, challenged them to hit the ball. He had just two strikeouts in his complete game. That, in many ways, is the idea.

“That’s what they try to engrave in you is to go out and do the little things right, throw pitches in the zone, get outs,’’ Buchholz said. “It takes a little bit of time for that to sink in after coming out of college and all you did was strike out people.’’

Buchholz’s strikeouts per nine innings are the lowest of his career, at the same time that he’s pitching the best of his career. The number has gone down from 8.7 in 2007 to 8.5 in 2008 to 6.7 in 2009 to 6.2 this season.

Buchholz suggests that perhaps some of that comes from batters having seen him more, and with more extensive scouting reports aiding them.

“They know what you throw in certain counts,’’ he said. “They know what your tendencies are. The more you pitch, the more they know about you.’’

Even with the lack of strikeouts, Buchholz has been outstanding.

Going into tonight’s start against Cleveland, Buchholz is 5-0 with a major league-best 0.99 ERA since May 14. He is tied for first in the American League with eight wins and second with a 2.39 ERA.

Numbers like those could cause visions of glory to dance through Buchholz’s head, though he seems to be unconcerned with next month’s All-Star Game at this point.

“It would be a great opportunity and everything, but you’ve got to keep working to get to that point.’’

Ellsbury gets tests
Jacoby Ellsbury left Cleveland yesterday for Los Angeles, where he will be seen this morning by Dr. Lewis Yocum. The outfielder worked out at Progressive Field yesterday before hopping on a plane.

“He’ll be examined thoroughly,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “Whatever that entails, they have our blessing. We need to try to get as much information as we can.’’

Francona said he has spoken to everyone involved, including Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, about the situation. Once Ellsbury has been examined, he will rejoin the team in Boston instead of returning to Cleveland.

“We’re trying to get the best information we can to get this defined and get him on his way,’’ Boras said. Asked whether his client has more discomfort, Boras said, “Yes. That’s why we’re trying to get more information.’’

The new tests clearly were requested by Boras and Ellsbury. The outfielder has been out since April 11 — with the exception of three games he played before returning to the disabled list — after suffering four fractured ribs in a collision with Adrian Beltre in foul ground in an April game at Kansas City.

“I hope there isn’t something new,’’ Francona said. “I think they’re just trying to get to the bottom, or if nothing else, get an opinion that’s completely removed from everyone that’s around him.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some news, and they’ll say, ‘We know you feel this, we understand that, and you can build up and you’re not going to hurt yourself.’ But we don’t know. That’s why we’re sending him. We just want to get as much information as we can.’’

Sandwich surprise
Francona hasn’t had a chance to talk about the draft with the front office yet, but he seemed excited that the Sox got Louisiana State pitcher Anthony Ranaudo with their second pick in the sandwich round Monday. “Surprised he was there,’’ Francona said. “Real surprised. I was excited when I heard that name. Again, I don’t know much about him, but just from listening to them, in the short time I have, I got excited when I saw that name.’’ He added, “As a manager, college pitching is probably the best thing; if Theo [Epstein] asked me, I’d tell him take 27 college pitchers. It’s just that they’re closer. I know there’s a lot to look at, because of potentially how beat up some guys can get. If they get into the regionals, they can pitch every other day, so I know there’s a lot to think about.’’ . . . Francona’s father, Tito Francona, visited Progressive Field Monday. On his father’s parenting style, Francona said, “I asked enough questions. He was gone, when I was really little, and then when he came home, he did a really good job of getting in his lawn chair, going out to the outfield, letting me know that he cared enough to watch, but not get in the way. You see too many people living their frustrations through their kids. That’s no good. My dad was the best at that. He’d call home, when I was little, ask me if I tried hard, if I had fun, and then he’d kind of throw in there, did I have any hits? But it was always last.’’

Longhorn chosen
After taking three college players on the first day of the draft, the Sox selected another with their first pick of the second day, University of Texas righthander Brandon Workman. A third-round pick of the Phillies in 2007, Workman is 12-1 with a 3.43 ERA for a team headed for the NCAA super regionals this weekend. The second-round pick was the 57th player taken overall. Fifteen of their next 20 picks were high school players, and two were particularly intriguing. Third-round pick Sean Coyle, of Germantown Academy outside of Philadelphia, is a 5-foot-8-inch shortstop who has often been compared to Dustin Pedroia. He has committed to North Carolina but worked out for the Red Sox at Fenway Park last week and may be close to agreeing to a contract. He is projected as a second baseman. The next pick was shortstop Garin Cecchini of Barbe High in Lake Charles, La. His season was derailed by knee surgery in May, which caused him to fall to the fourth round. Cecchini was signed by Louisiana State. The Sox also took a familiar name in the sixth round, Kendrick Perkins. Like the Celtics center, he is from Texas. But this Perkins is a 6-2 center fielder who is giving up Division 1-A football scholarships to pursue a baseball career.

Papelbon works out
Jonathan Papelbon, who is away from the team until at least tomorrow on the bereavement/family medical emergency list, was able to go to Fenway Park yesterday to work out. It is not clear whether Papelbon will need to be away longer than the minimum three days . . . Manny Delcarmen’s back was less stiff yesterday, though Francona said he didn’t know whether the reliever would have been available last night . . . Jeremy Hermida has improved from his collision with Beltre, which occurred Friday. The Sox would like to have him back by tonight to start against former Sox pitcher Justin Masterson.

Beckett eyes Saturday
Josh Beckett plans to throw Saturday if he feels good. “Just walking around and sleeping, I feel a lot better,’’ Beckett said. “I’m hopeful of being able to get started on Saturday.’’ . . . David Ortiz’s single in the fourth inning ended an 0-for-16 slump . . . It wasn’t just the fans and fantasy owners of Stephen Strasburg who were paying attention to his major league debut last night. The Red Sox were, too. Strasburg struck out 14 over seven innings and got the win for the Nationals. “Guys were kind of coming down, there was a little bit of buzz in the dugout,’’ Francona said. “I look forward to watching the highlights tonight. It’s good for baseball. Sounded like their ballpark was sold out. I know there’s been a buzz all week. That’s good for baseball, especially since we don’t have to face him. The Pirates may not feel that way.’’

Nick Cafardo and Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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