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Buchholz begins on road back

He throws two scoreless innings as Sox beat Twins

Clay Buchholz walked two and struck out two in his two scoreless frames last night. Clay Buchholz walked two and struck out two in his two scoreless frames last night. (David Goldman/Associated Press)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 6, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Get the first one over with and build from there.

That was the attitude taken by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.

Finally it was Clay Buchholz’s turn. After missing more than half of last season with a small stress fracture in his back, Buchholz was back on the mound, healthy and preparing for what he hopes will be his best year yet.

Buchholz made his his first spring training start Monday night against the Twins at Hammond Stadium, and he said he was trying desperately to erase the memory of 2011 and fast-forward to achieving a goal of 200 innings, and although he doesn’t speak of it, becoming the No. 1 pitcher Red Sox officials always believed he would be.

Buchholz, who has a 2.70 ERA over the last two seasons, trailing only Angels ace Jered Weaver for the best in the American League in that span, won 17 games two years ago and had one of the lowest ERAs in baseball.

Starting the first season of a four-year, $30 million deal, Buchholz has shown no effects from last season’s back problems. The Red Sox took a conservative approach to his comeback last season and would not accelerate his return to help the team in September. Instead, he returned to Fort Myers, where he pitched in instructional league games.

“No problems tonight, just a little bit of anticipation and a little adrenaline, but everything felt good,’’ said Buchholz.

It had been nine months since his last start, June 16. A lot happened in the interim.

“It was a long time coming,’’ Buchholz said. “My mind-set was to try to relax and not overthrow and spot up and I got a little haywire in the first inning. But having guys on base allows you to get ready for those situations later. A lot of work went into it. A lot of time off. A lot of struggle. It was definitely worth the wait and the hard work.’’

Buchholz faced some of Minnesota’s regulars, such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Josh Willingham.

“I was facing a big league team - they just weren’t no-name guys,’’ Buchholz said.

Buchholz said he altered his delivery just before he was shut down last season. It could have led to arm problems, but he stopped early enough. And when he went out there Monday night, “It felt 180 degrees different,’’ he said.

Buchholz, who does a back program three times a week, didn’t allow a hit, but walked two and struck out two in two innings. He threw 36 pitches (20 for strikes), 21 in the second when he hit Willingham and walked Ryan Doumit.

“He’s a fiery competitor,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said. “His pitches were good. He didn’t pitch that well with them but I think he’s going to be a welcome addition to this staff.’’

Buchholz had plenty of run support. In the second inning the Red Sox scored four runs on two errors en route to a 10-2 victory.

Vicente Padilla relieved Buchholz and he delivered one strong inning and one tedious inning. He threw an eephus pitch to Mauer. The pitch appeared on the radar gun at 53 m.p.h. His fastest pitch was clocked 93 m.p.h. Padilla allowed three singles but did not allow a run.

“I started locating my pitches and was more focused on the strike zone,’’ Padilla said through his interpreter, David Ortiz, who homered and doubled as the first baseman.

Catching prospect Daniel Butler hit a three-run homer for the Sox, and third baseman Will Middlebrooks had two hits and knocked in a run.

Will Inman allowed both Twins runs, surrendering four straight singles in the fifth.

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