To John Farrell, the checkpoint for Clay Buchholz was the sixth inning. After watching Buchholz throw fives scoreless against the Rays in his first start since coming off the disabled list, that was the bar Farrell set as a sign of continued progress.
"That was somewhat the objective tonight in addition to going out and giving us the chance to win," Farrell said.
Buchholz reached it, giving up two hits and one run in six innings of work in the Red Sox' 9-1 win over the Yankees. He became the first Sox pitcher since Roger Clemens to start a season with 11 wins and no losses in his first 14 starts and, with the Sox wrapping up their season series with the Yankees, he finished 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA in three starts against them. But it was clear that the priority was gradually getting Buchholz ready for the postseason, start by start.
"We need to get his innings up for sure, get his pitch count up," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "I think he had better stuff last start, but this start, he still made some pitches when he needed to to get out of some innings. But that's what you need. You need to stretch him out, get some more innings and get ready for whatever may happen."
With four walks and a hit batter, things didn't necessarily go as smoothly as the first. For as well as he pitched, Buchholz spent much of the night searching for command of his fastball. With three walks and a hit batter, he let the lead runner reach in four of the first five innings, but was able to work around it, leaning on his cutter and mixing his secondary pitches in.
"It's not easy to pitch if you don't command your fastball," Buchholz. said. "I had better command of the cut fastball tonight than my actual four-seam, two-seam early. Just to have a pitch that moves, that you can throw it in the zone 2-1 counts, 2-0, 3-1, I think that that's big for hitters in big situations where they can just sit on one fastball in one spot. That's what I've done all year to this point and it's just a confidence level to throw a good pitch whenever you want to throw it."
The best he said he felt was in his final inning, when he used just nine pitches to sit down Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano, and Lyle Overbay. Being able to sort through the issues is part of the process prepares to push through the end of the season and beyond.
“Just to run back out there two starts in a row, that's what I want to do, that's where I want to be,” he said. “Couldn't be any better than helping a bunch of guys that want the same goal and that's just to go out and win games and get to October.”