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A staff with lots of stuff — going on

By Nick Cafardo
April 10, 2011

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It’s alarming to watch Clay Buchholz get whacked around.

That can’t happen if the Red Sox are to get out of this 1-7 malaise to start the 2011 season.

Because John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka have become the proverbial box of chocolates, it’s imperative that Jon Lester and Buchholz give the Sox what they gave them last season — 36 wins or thereabouts.

So far, Buchholz has started out horribly.

He surrendered four solo homers to the Rangers in his opening start, and yesterday he allowed eight hits and four earned runs, and another long ball, in 3 2/3 innings of a 9-4 loss to the Yankees at Fenway Park.

Last season, Buchholz was pretty tough, amassing 17 wins and compiling an excellent 2.33 ERA.

Not so much now. What’s going on?

We know there are a lot of new moving parts with the Sox’ pitching situation.

John Farrell is gone as pitching coach, having moved on to manage the Blue Jays, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the new catcher. There are a lot of things for the pitchers and new pitching coach Curt Young to get used to.

Young worked very well with his staffs in Oakland, guys he knew and helped groom into a pretty decent group, but he’s had to get used to a whole new staff with the Sox.

Young is probably still learning what makes each pitcher tick, much less trying to figure out when things go bad what he needs to do to get them back on the right track.

We may be overanalyzing that aspect of it, and, indeed, Buchholz said, “I don’t think so,’’ when asked about it.

“Maybe it takes a while to get on the same page as far as pitcher-catcher,’’ he said. “Curt has brought in a pretty good bit of knowledge. I don’t think there’s anything to do with that. We just have to execute the pitches like we did last year.’’

What’s driving manager Terry Francona crazy is high pitch counts, which result in quick exits by the starters. There’s been only one quality start (six innings, three runs or fewer) in the first eight games.

So while Francona acknowledges a breaking-in period for new personnel, he said, “That’s not why we have high pitch counts. We’re always trying to learn about people. It’s just a matter of executing right now. You have to execute well or they’ll make you pay for it.’’

Saltalamacchia agreed that there is a breaking-in period, but said it has nothing to do with a new pitching coach.

“I think we have to trust our staff and do it,’’ Salty said. “Curt’s new, but he’s really a student of pitching. He does a great job with scouting reports. There’s no reason we should be going through stuff like this.’’

Nobody is going to throw anyone under the bus, so those are the answers one expects to hear.

In the end, it always comes down to the pitcher himself. A starting rotation that has allowed 34 earned runs and 12 homers in eight games, that is 1-5 with a 7.41 ERA, isn’t going to get very far.

Veterans such as Lackey and Beckett must figure out when they get out of their comfort zones what they need to do to get back within that range — with the pitching coach or on their own.

If they’ve lost velocity and their secondary pitches aren’t crisp enough to offset the reduction in velocity, there’s not much you can do about that. But if it’s something mechanical that’s not being picked up, that’s a different story. Then it does fall on Young to identify and correct it.

There’s always that theory that pitchers who don’t strike out a lot of batters eventually are vulnerable to getting hit. But there’s been enough sample size with Buchholz to know that he’s a terrific young hurler with good stuff. Sometimes after when you’ve dominated in your first full season, there’s a period of readjustment after the hitters adjust to you. There are plenty of scouting reports on what Buchholz does well and where his pitches are susceptible to being hit. Maybe that explains some of what’s happening now.

The Sox rotation has had to deal with good-hitting teams in Texas and New York. Cleveland was likely an aberration.

“Anybody in this rotation can pitch to any team,’’ Buchholz said. “Good mistake-hitting teams are going to hit your mistakes, and that’s basically what’s going on right now. We find ourselves behind on the count a lot. You’ve got to throw strikes because you don’t want to walk people around the bases. So they’re hitting pitches they should be hitting. They’re not missing the mistake pitches we’re throwing up there.’’

Buchholz is really important, and so is getting him straightened out. But Buchholz doesn’t believe he’s that far away.

“Everything is good,’’ he said. “Everything is there. Just a matter of throwing the pitches when I need to throw them. Last year I threw offspeed pitches when I was behind on the count and had a lot of success with it. I just haven’t thrown them for strikes yet. I think it’s only two starts in, but it’s a game of adjustments. If you can adjust to situations, then everything will pan out for you. That’s what I’ll work on the next four days and go at it again.’’

“We’re not even two turns through, but it hasn’t been a good first-turn-and-a-half through the rotation and we need to try to get better,’’ said Francona. “I agree with that. We all feel that way.’’

Buchholz was asked whether the pitchers bear the responsibility for the team’s poor start.

“I’m sure everybody would take full responsibility,’’ he said. “Some days you go out there and you give up four runs and your team scores eight. [Or] you give up seven and the team scores nine and you get a win out of it but you don’t feel like you’ve done your job.

“As a pitcher and competitor, you want to throw as many innings as you can and give up as few runs as you can. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re striving for.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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