Yesterday marked two important milestones for Clay Buchholz, for the best and worst of reasons: It was the first-year anniversary of his no-hitter and also the final game of his regular season. Minor league teams, of course, are the only ones whose season ends Sept. 1, and Buchholz is with Double A Portland now after a season of ineffectiveness.
"It's a pretty neat little deal. It [expletive] that I'm not up there right now," Buchholz said, nicely summing up the duality in a breath or two.
After his disastrous season, Buchholz has salvaged his confidence during two starts with the Sea Dogs (you can read more in today's Globe). His stats in Portland (in a small sample size) are close to what he did there before his promotion to Triple A Pawtucket last year:
When, then, might Buchholz rejoin the Red Sox? When I asked Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler, which, if any, of his players might be called up, he said, "The easy answer – Buch's been up there. If he can get rolling . . ."
Buchholz will make one start against Trenton in the playoffs, and he seemed intent on (or maybe resigned to) finishing the Eastern League playoffs with Portland. "Maybe we can get a championship for this team, then get that call and help another team win," he said.
Does Buchholz think he might make it back to Boston this season?
"I don't know. I haven't talked to anybody," Buchholz said. "People are always asking me, 'Are you mad?' I ain't mad. I'm not hurt and I'm still playing baseball. It's not a huge, huge deal. I'm here to try to help this team win while I'm here. If something happens to go back to Boston to try to help those guys out, I'm all for it. If not, you know, I had a lot of opportunities to secure a spot in that rotation this year, and I didn't perform as well as I thought I should have. I'm getting some work in down here and can have a fun little run in the playoffs here."
Even if the Red Sox are impressed by his Double A turnaround, and even if they believe it has already returned Buchholz to the being the same pitcher who no-hit the Orioles, they would still have a difficult decision. Might the Sox just want Buchholz to head back to his home in Texas for the winter feeling confident rather than take the chance that a poor September in the majors would undo all the good the Sea Dogs stint did?
Portland pitching coach Mike Cather knows Buchholz as well as anyone in the organization. Here's what he thinks:
"Realistically, the way the season is going in Boston might actually dictate whether they need him or not. All I know is we got him in one of these playoff games, and I'm really excited about that. If he goes in that game and he has success and they decide they need a starter, then that might be the only way that happens. I don't know. There hasn't been communication. But I know that Clay loves the competition. Who's to say when everybody deems that it's time? We're going to enjoy him when we have him."
Buchholz and the organization agree the move to Portland has been nothing but positive. Or at least, "it's going to be," Buchholz said. "I'm not up there right now. But I had opportunities to be up there and stay up there this year. I think it's going to better me as a player and as a person for everything, the adversity that's gone on this year. I know I'll be back up at some point. It may not be this year in the playoffs or whatever, but if that's the case, I'll go home and take a couple of weeks and try to get better next year and be ready to go."
Cather probably had the most interesting take on the whole process, something I tried to make clear in today's story – that because Buchholz really never had faced adversity on his way up, the tumult was in some way inevitable.
"He was too good for his own good," Cather said. "Not having experience of learning how to deal with failure was the biggest challenge for him."
The demotion "is a part of the process for him. This is part of his development. He was never tested in the minor leagues. When he pitched in Double A, a bad outing for him was 10 or 12 strikeouts in six innings. You're like, 'Well, fastball command really wasn't there.' Whatever we were talking about, he would still go out there and absolutely dominate.
"He gets to the major league level, has incredible success initially, and now he's got to deal with the effect of getting hit and failing and learning how to deal with that failure. This is a natural part of anybody's development. This was a natural course of action."
One more exit note for now from Hadlock Field: Beyeler feels because of the youth of the Sea Dogs and their playoff berth, it doesn't seem likely anyone on the roster will play in the majors this season. But he did list some candidates: