Well, at least it was better.
Following up his ruminating 2014 debut on Saturday night, Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz looked a bit more like himself Thursday evening in the Bronx; that is if we could really ever get a clear handle on what kind of pitcher the 29-year-old hurler truly is.
Buchholz swallowed his first loss of the season in a 4-1 loss to the Yankees that will no doubt be overshadowed by Yankees starter Michael Pineda’s hazel-colored encrusted pitching hand. The Yankees’ mystery man (not to be confused with Robinson Checo), shut the Red Sox down in the teams’ first meeting of the season, even as the outside world became infatuated with the magical substance on Pineda’s hand that surely was the reason he was no-hitting the Red Sox for the bulk of the evening.
Red Sox manager John Farrell made no issue of it. Just a guess here, but was his reluctance due to the fact that former Boston outfielder – and former roommate of Buchholz’ during their time in Lowell – might have had a proper retaliation for New York manager Joe Girardi?
Does Bullfrog ring a bell?
It was last May when Toronto broadcasters Jack Morris and Dick Hayhurst raised the question as to what sort of substance Buchholz was using during a game against the Blue Jays. As Yahoo’s Jeff Passan later reported, “Two veteran pitchers and one source close to the Red Sox told Yahoo! Sports that about 90 percent of major league pitchers use some form of spray-on sunscreen – almost always BullFrog brand – that when combined with powdered rosin gives them a far superior grip on the ball.
“Sunscreen and rosin could be used as foundation for houses,” one American League pitcher told Passan. “Produces a tack, glue-like substance that engineers would be jealous of.”
So for those clamoring for Farrell to challenge the Yankees Thursday night, know that the response from the other dugout would have amounted to, “Et tu, Red Sox?”
Still, whatever Buchholz had going for him in the early-going against the Yankees, it was at least reminiscent of every bit the major league-caliber pitcher he looked nothing the part of on Saturday night when he doused a Fenway crowd with a performance that allowed six runs over 4 1/3 innings, and fooled as many Brewers about as well as an O’Doul’s. On Thursday, he allowed only two earned runs over six innings, but never truly had full control of the game.
As per usual, the Red Sox pitcher remains an enigma, a thoroughly frustrating asset with the physical and mental temperament of a leaf. It only made sense to figure that last year’s start was the maturation coming to fruition, that is until his 9-0 start morphed into a two-month ordeal of medical nonsense. That sparked a summer worth of babying and excuse-making the likes of which I’ve never seen in Boston sports. At some point, you had to figure Buchholz had illicit pictures of 95 percent of the esteemed Baseball Writers Association of America based on the defense team the writers had in store for the Red Sox pitcher.
The popular stance: He has to be perfect. Who is anyone to judge his health otherwise? The counter: Um…the doctors told him he was fine, so….?
None other than Dr, James Andrews gave Buchholz a clean bill of health last July, and he still managed to miss another month on the mound. The response? “Golly gee.”
Buchholz gets hammered by the Brewers, and what’s the response? “ Dude, it’s April.”
Buchholz loses a game against the Yankees in which the opponent is clearly cheating and what’s the response? None. Because your guy is doing it too.
“Especially on cold, windy nights, it’s tough to get a grip on a baseball,” Buchholz said Thursday night. “I had that incident in Toronto where I had stuff all over my body. You can use rosin, water, and sunscreen stuff. Either you have a grip on the baseball and have a semi-idea of where it’s going, or get somebody hurt.”
Huh. Isn’t it interesting then that Buchholz didn’t pitch from June 9 until Sept. 10 last season, the bulk of the months during which such “grips” wouldn’t be necessary?
Look, Buchholz may never become the ace that many expected him to become, but the holdback will always seem to be based on reluctance rather than talent. Everybody knows that he possesses the latter, but his attitude, maturity, and willingness will always be in question until there is some semblance of consistency.
Buchholz should be a guy the Red Sox can rely on. He is anything but, and all the nurturing and excuse-making the team and media continues to process for him does little in the eyes of the public besides seeing him for what he is; a pitcher that depends on perfection, with little willingness to go the extra step. He’s not Pedro in Cleveland in ’99. He’s not Schilling in the Bronx in ’04. He’s Clay Buchholz.
For some, that’s good enough. For others, it might seem like a guy saving himself for a free agent payday, which will come as early as 2016, or 2018 if the Sox don’t pick up a pair of team options.
Granted, that’s just a hunch. So is the fact that Jon Lester is free to use all the Vaseline he wants Friday night for his start in New York. Clearly, nobody is going to call him out for it, just as few will cross the boundary that is questioning just what sort of value his fellow starter has for the Red Sox.
Maybe this is what Clay Buchholz is. Or, scratch that, for maybe it’s what he’s become, merely a good major league pitcher holding back his greatness. For whatever reason that may be.