Clay Buchholz finished his start in Triple A Pawtucket today like any other, just another day in a place he preferred not to be. He allowed four earned runs on eights hits in 5 1/3 innings in a loss. He could have been better. He retreated to the clubhouse thinking nothing out of the ordinary.
With starters Tim Wakefield and Josh Beckett pitching in the All-Star game, the Red Sox wanted to clarify their opening pitching rotation for the second half. In the process, they gave Buchholz the opportunity both he and a loud segment of Red Sox fans have clamored for.
“The stress of being [in Pawtucket] and all that stuff, I’ve said it a couple of times that I’ve put a lot of that on myself for the season I had last year,” Buchholz told the Pawtucket Times. “That’s how things go, but opportunities come up. And I’m glad I was the guy they went to for it.”
The Red Sox plan for Buchholz to make one start and then rejoin the PawSox. After Buchholz pitches, the Red Sox’ rotation for the remaining two games in Toronto and three games in Texas will be Brad Penny, Jon Lester, John Smoltz, Beckett, and Wakefield.
Francona and the Sox chose Buchholz for multiple reasons. The start fell on the day he would have pitched next. Choosing a pitcher outside the regular rotation eliminated any confusion – Francona envisioned a scenario in which Smoltz decided whether he should throw a bullpen session while seeing how much Wakefield threw in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
“We are trying to incorporate rest, trying to keep everybody consistent, not one guy 10 days [of rest] and one guy 15,” Francona said. “We are real comfortable with the way this is setting up. I think there’s some validity to, give Buch the ball and go. I think it will help us all the way around.”
After Buchholz’s disastrous two stints in the Sox' rotation last season, he righted his career this spring training and in the first half of the season in the minor leagues. Buchholz is 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP, second best in the International League. The start, in a way, will be a reward for Buchholz’s impressive first half.
“That’s part of it,” Francona said. “He’s very important to what we’re doing, obviously, in the future. I don’t think that we would just do that. It lines up real well. It should benefit him and us.”
Buchholz became a sensation at the end of 2007, when he fired a no-hitter against the Orioles in his second big-league start. After a miserable 2008 spring training, he joined the starting rotation and never recaptured his 2007 success. His confidence crumbled, and he finished the season with Double A Portland.
This spring training, Buchholz restored his confidence, carrying an ERA of less than 1.00 for most of March. While he dominated at Triple A, Buchholz became frustrated at being stuck in the minors. On Friday, for one day, Buchholz will have his chance.
“I’m happy for him,” Beckett said. “I really am. That might give everybody else an extra day of recovery time, give you that extra day of rest.”