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Buchholz feeling strong

Pitcher's back, outlook healthy

Clay Buchholz didn’t have to worry about his back injury after throwing in the Instructional League at the end of last season. Clay Buchholz didn’t have to worry about his back injury after throwing in the Instructional League at the end of last season. (File/Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 16, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Red Sox players slithered away when last season ended, and their historic collapse was complete. But Clay Buchholz was not granted the luxury of hiding his face among family and friends. He still had work to do.

Buchholz was assigned to the Instructional League in Florida to determine whether the stress fracture in his back had properly healed. Instead of going home, he had to start three games against minor league prospects on windswept practice fields.

Buchholz didn’t want to go, but he wasn’t given much of a choice. He threw nine innings, was deemed healthy, and was allowed to go on his way. By then, the 27-year-old righthander realized the value in what he had done.

“It was definitely a good thing for me to know that going into the offseason, I wasn’t injured anymore and was able to throw without any pain,’’ said Buchholz, who arrived at camp yesterday. “It ended up being a good thing.’’

Emboldened by his return to health, Buchholz tackled an ambitious offseason training regimen. His next bullpen session, scheduled for today, will be the ninth or 10th of the winter.

“I haven’t had a problem,’’ Buchholz said. “As of right now, I feel good.’’

Buchholz was 6-3 with a 3.48 earned run average when he was shut down in June after 14 starts. At the time, the Red Sox said the injury was minor and that Buchholz was being placed on the disabled list for precautionary reasons.

But that diagnosis proved wildly incorrect as Buchholz did not pitch again, although the desperate Red Sox did activate him for the final game of the season.

The goal now is to stay healthy and reach 200 innings for the first time in his career.

“I think it’s big,’’ said Buchholz. “It’s what I want to do every time I come to spring training. It’s what I prepare myself to do.

“The last two seasons came with injuries that I didn’t have any control over. It was frustrating in that aspect. But you can learn from everything.’’

Buchholz, who is in the first year of a four-year, $29.94 million contract, is being counted on for innings. He, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester are the only established starters on the roster.

“I think anybody who’s going to make more than 25 starts on this team as a starting pitcher is incredibly important, and I’m counting on him to do that,’’ said manager Bobby Valentine. “He’s very important.’’

Buchholz met with Valentine over dinner in Arizona last month, joining teammates Jacoby Ellsbury, Darnell McDonald, and Dustin Pedroia at the 90-minute meeting. He came away impressed with his new manager.

“He’s a good dude. He’s upbeat,’’ Buchholz said. “I haven’t gotten to talk to him a whole lot, but it seems like he’s willing to take on the challenge of managing the Boston Red Sox. Everybody knows how hard that can be at times. I think it’s going to be good for us.

“It seems like he likes to have control over everybody and I think that’s something that we need. Then again, he’s a relaxed person, too. I think it’ll fit in well with this clubhouse.’’

Buchholz was indirectly referring to the revelation that he and other starters occasionally would drink beer in the clubhouse during games. That behavior, which helped lead to the departure of former manager Terry Francona, won’t be tolerated under Valentine, and Buchholz accepts that.

“I’ve learned a lesson from it,’’ he said. “I think everybody who was involved learned lessons from it. We’re all grown men; everybody can take care of themselves.

“But sometimes, whenever you veer off the path that you need to take, you need somebody there to tell you, ‘This is where we need to go and I see you doing this.’ In that aspect, it’s going to be good for us.’’

Buchholz revealed that the in-game drinking was not confined to last season.

“It happened more than that in previous years,’’ he said. “But we did well and it wasn’t to be spoken of. The main issue is that we didn’t make the playoffs, and that was something for people to talk about.

“That was last year. A couple of bad decisions here and there. I think, still, if we had made the playoffs, it wouldn’t have been that big a topic. There’s got to be a reason for everything, a reason for us not being in the postseason. I think it was blown out of proportion a little bit.’’

In Buchholz’s mind, the clubhouse misbehavior did not contribute to the collapse.

“I know we’re going to have to answer some questions here early,’’ he said. “But for the most part, either we didn’t hit or we didn’t pitch. If you don’t do either of those things in a single month, it’s not going to turn out well. I think everybody knows that.

“I think a lot of the guys have come here with a chip on their shoulder about it and we want to do well and we want to go to October this year.

“It’s in the past. I think everybody’s learned from it. I think everybody’s mental state is going to be a lot better.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com.

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