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Not much fun being had by Buchholz this season

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 21, 2012
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We understand it will take him some time.

Clay Buchholz is coming back from a stress fracture in his back that cost him more than half of last season. But the team is dying and Buchholz, slotted No. 3 in the rotation, can’t seem to put it together.

Buchholz allowed five homers to the Yankees in Friday’s 6-2 loss. He has to come up big for this team to work. The Red Sox have always believed he had No. 1 starter ability. So far, he hasn’t shown it.

Oh, there were encouraging signs when he settled down in his last outing and got through seven innings, but there was no carryover. Red Sox pitchers have to beat the best. Instead, they’ve been beaten by the best.

Buchholz, who had a 2.33 ERA in 2010, is now sporting a 9.00 ERA after his six-plus-inning, nine-hit outing on Friday.

In the old days, a pitcher would be sent to Pawtucket to work on some things, but as a former 17-game winner in the majors, Buchholz will be allowed to work it out in the big leagues.

Manager Bobby Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure mentioned after the game that Buchholz is still building arm strength.

“I was just mentioning, watching the game again, that he made a lot of good pitches in between the bad ones, and the bad ones they didn’t miss,’’ McClure said. “He just centered some. If he gets away with a couple of mislocated balls, then it’s probably a different story. Some are mislocated. I think he’s still building his arm strength. I still think he’s going to be really good. I’m still looking for a little more sink and movement.’’

We all know what Buchholz is when he’s right. He’s a pitcher. He relies on more than his fastball. He has a lot of movement on his two-seamer and curveball.

Buchholz repeated yesterday that he’s healthy. The back is old news. In spring training, the Sox watched him closely to make certain there were no setbacks. There were not, but Buchholz didn’t pitch well. He looked understandably rusty.

And that rust hasn’t been shaken off as the regular season has begun. And when you leave four fastballs up in the strike zone to hitters such as Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez (twice), and Russell Martin, it’s not going to be pretty.

“I feel 100 percent healthy,’’ said Buchholz. “I don’t think last year has anything to do with it. It’s just missing up in the zone. A team like that who can hit mistakes, you can’t miss up in the zone. That was the case today.’’

He added, “I made five mistakes today and they hit them.’’

Who knows what else might be at play? Buchholz has a lucrative, long-term deal. Is he feeling the pressure of that? Is he feeling the pressure of needing to be a pertinent starter in a rotation that sorely missed him a year ago, especially in September?

And then he’s the guy pitching on one of the most historic days in Red Sox history - the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. After so many goose-bump moments, here you go Clay, take the mound against the Yankees.

“Obviously, you don’t want to go out and lose first of all, but you have to approach it like it’s another game,’’ said Buchholz. “There was a big buildup, but you have to treat it like an everyday start. Some days it goes good and some days it doesn’t, and you have to build on it. It’s a process where you have to work on it.’’

Buchholz didn’t even watch the pregame ceremony. He was preparing for the game.

It didn’t start well. In the first inning, Dustin Pedroia dropped a Derek Jeter popup, and then Buchholz threw a wild pitch. With Jeter on second, Buchholz allowed a single to center by Rodriguez on a changeup that caught too much of the plate.

“Anybody can say it’s the wrong pitch to throw if they hit it,’’ said Buchholz. “A couple of changeups and cutters and fastballs - if they weren’t middle or thigh high they might have hit them, but they might not have been a homer. [Jarrod Saltalamacchia] did a good job of calling them [pitches], but I have to go out and execute.’’

Nothing is going smoothly in the starting rotation. Jon Lester had a stinker in his third start, lasting only two innings against the Rangers. Daniel Bard pitched well against the Rays, but allowed seven walks and was probably kept in the game too long (111 pitches) in a 1-0 loss.

The Red Sox don’t want to lose Aaron Cook, who is in Pawtucket and can opt out of his contract May 1, Daisuke Matsuzaka is five minor league starts away from rejoining the major league team. So there’s going to be competition for rotation spots soon.

While Buchholz was given the No. 3 spot, he will soon have to pitch for it.

“Against a lot of the hitters he was very competitive,’’ Valentine said. “Those home runs out of the windup with nobody on, they were perplexing. He had a good curveball. His fastball was located down nicely a lot of the times, but four of the times his fastball wasn’t located properly. He’s still building. He didn’t pitch all of last year and he’s still getting his feet underneath him.’’

So far, Buchholz has merely continued the type of pitching he did in spring training.

It’s only April. It’s only three starts, but Buchholz needs to pitch like the No. 3 starter.

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

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