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Buchholz needs to get it started

So far, he’s a long way from form of 2010

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 26, 2012
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MINNEAPOLIS - Clay Buchholz is back pitching full time in the Red Sox starting rotation.

But if the Sox are seriously thinking about adding Aaron Cook to the staff by his May 1 opt-out date, isn’t the spot they’d have to consider taking Buchholz’s?

The Sox appear hell-bent on not moving Daniel Bard back to the bullpen. So if Bard remains a starter and the Sox want to accommodate Cook, someone has to be dropped.

It’s probably not fair to remove Felix Doubront, who is on a steady climb.

And so if Buchholz stays, Cook probably won’t - unless he’s added as a bullpen piece, which also doesn’t seem logical.

Cook is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA at Pawtucket and will make one more start before his opt-out. He has said he has not made a decision on the opt-out date, leaving some room for the possibility he could stay longer.

But there are teams who have scouted Cook who would scoop him up as soon as he becomes available. What the Red Sox may have to do is try to convince Cook to stay on, perhaps pay him more, and convince him that working with his former Colorado pitching coach Bob McClure is a good thing for his career.

It’s not that Cook is the be-all end-all, and if common sense prevailed, Bard would be the closer and Cook would take the fifth spot.

So now what?

Both manager Bobby Valentine and Buchholz were relatively happy with the pitcher’s Wednesday night performance in a 7-6 win over the Twins.

Buchholz got the victory, lasting 5 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on 10 hits and walking three. When he left the game in the sixth, he had allowed two runs, but the bullpen threw more gas on the fire and three of his runners scored.

Buchholz’s outing was far from a disaster, but he also was far from the dominating pitcher who had a 2.33 ERA in 2010.

Where that pitcher has gone is anyone’s guess. And after he missed time last season after back surgery, obviously there’s a lot of rust being worked out.

When asked how far he was from being the pitcher he was in 2010, Buchholz said, “My curveball is better now than then. It’s just a matter of balls finding grass now where they weren’t that year.’’

To his credit, Buchholz has never made returning from back surgery an excuse for his 8.87 ERA.

Buchholz had only one 1-2-3 inning, in the fifth. Base runners abounded in every other inning. It was tedious, to say the least.

One scout thought Buchholz needed to throw more four-seam fastballs since he was relying so much on his two-seamers. He had a good breaking ball and started throwing his changeup after the first time through the order.

“I executed pitches better than I had all season,’’ Buchholz said. “As far as individually goes, I’ve got to do better.’’

He thought he had better command of every single pitch he threw than at any time this season.

And even Valentine said, “We’ll take that Clay Buchholz and take our chances with that.’’

“I felt a lot better keeping the ball in the zone,’’ Buchholz said.

The upbeat nature of both Valentine and Buchholz didn’t seem to match the results.

Every pitcher gives up seeing-eye hits and ones that just miss the fielder’s glove and ones that drop in front of outfielders or over the infielder’s head.

Buchholz and Valentine see progress. Not all who watched the game would agree. One of the worst offensive teams in baseball managed 14 hits.

Buchholz loaded the bases with a single and two walks in first inning. There were two hits and a run scored in the second. Two more hits came in the third, and two more in the fourth (though one was an infield hit). He had the 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, and then in the sixth Ben Revere’s bunt single started a five-run rally.

Obviously, Valentine and Buchholz must have seen something positive or there wouldn’t be such optimism after the game. Buchholz probably will be allowed to keep working things out until he is dominating teams like he did in 2010. But what that means for the Cook situation is anyone’s guess.

It’s not likely the Sox would go to a six-man rotation, though when Daisuke Matsuzaka returns in late May, that may have to be considered.

Buchholz is the No. 3 starter on this staff, but he hasn’t pitched up to the quality that that spot in the rotation needs to pitch at.

It’s early in the season and Valentine is trying to find out what his pitchers are made of.

He’s wading through his bullpen and can barely keep his head above water. He has no setup man to speak of, trying to force the issue with Franklin Morales. Alfredo Aceves is over-throwing terribly trying to be the closer. He has four saves, but the outings have been adventures.

But the same applies to his starting rotation.

Josh Beckett has been decent, Jon Lester up and down, and Buchholz has been not so good. Doubront is promising, and while Bard can be dominating, his true value to the 2012 team was never more obvious than his eighth-inning performance Monday.

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