Can we put an end to this charade?
In the wake of last week’s demolition of the starting rotation, Clay Buchholz took the reigns as the de facto “ace” of the Red Sox on Sunday night, and pitched lights out, as millions of New Englanders flipped the switch for an early bedtime, an intelligent alternative to watching Buchholz barf all over the mound at Fenway Park.
I’m not sure why we expect much else out of Buchholz at this point. The righty was at his worst again on Sunday night, allowing eight hits, five walks, and seven runs in Boston’s 8-7 loss to New York, a game that took three hours, 42 minutes to play, a conservative number considering the first three innings were played in the time it takes to watch your average screwball comedy. Buchholz threw a season-high 114 pitches, and you get the sense that maybe John Farrell was sending him a message by not relieving him earlier. “Suck it up, kid. This is your staff now.”
That is frightening.
In Buchholz’s last three starts, he’s pitched 16 innings, allowed 21 hits, allowed 19 runs (18 earned), walked 13, and struck out 10. His ERA over those starts is 10.13. On Sunday night, he squandered leads of 3-0, 5-3 and 7-4, and yet he still exited the game to rave reviews from his teammates, who act around him like the family of Anthony Fremont on “The Twilight Zone.” (“It’s a good thing you walked the bases loaded, Clay. A very good thing.”)
“He’s got the best stuff you’ll see anywhere in this game,” Red Sox catcher David Ross said, presumably before hopping into his cartoon car to spend the night on the moon. “You’re not going to find a more talented pitcher who can throw four or five pitches any time he wants to for strikes. The injuries and the mechanics, they can do a number on you and it takes time to come back, but Buch is doing all he can. He’s working hard. Nobody wants to get back to being what he was more than Buch.”
That’s great and all, but what the hell was he, exactly? He’s had stretches of brilliance like the first half of last season, but the trying performances outweigh the eye-opening ones by such a margin that it’s difficult to see the potential in the 29-year-old’s arm. Buchholz will be 30 in 10 days. It’s time to stop believing the myth that he’s just around the corner from putting it all together. If that’s the case, let him do it somewhere else. The Red Sox and their fans have been patient enough.
“I was just trying to throw the ball over the plate,” Buchholz said. “When things are going good, you find a way to make a routine. When things are going bad, sometimes you change things up and you don’t even recognize you’re changing them up. It’s just you’re so into doing one thing, you’re not thinking about anything else, so that probably had something to do with it.”
Give Buchholz this; he didn’t act nonchalant about the performance after the game, when he normally spouts words of how he “felt good” and only had a few problems with “location.” Whether he was coached to or not, there was some level of accountability in Buchholz’s words Sunday night, which I suppose, is some level of progress.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” Buchholz said. “I don’t know how to explain it.
“It’s been a frustrating year for me and the organization. It’s not the way we wanted to wear the Red Sox uniform and go out and perform. A lot of that is on my shoulders — I need to pick it up during the season. I know you’re not supposed to look at the board and numbers but it’s been a constant battle of trying to throw up zeroes and when it doesn’t happen it’s frustrating. I have to find a way to get through it.’’
Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy are gone, leaving Buchholz as the man the Red Sox are hoping their young starters can look up to. Think about the daunting nature of that proposition. Hell, it worked wonders Saturday afternoon though when Allen Webster was just as dreadful against New York, walking six in 2 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, Anthony Ranaudo, impressive in his major league debut Friday night is in Pawtucket…why?
Buchholz is the Red Sox’ No. 1. But he is no ace. Not this season. Not last season. Not next season.
How long until the Red Sox realize this? Eight years isn’t long enough?
How much worse (5-7, 6.20 ERA, 1.61 WHIP) must Buchholz be before the Red Sox make a move with him? Send him to the bullpen, the disabled list, or a puppy farm in upstate Maine for all we care. If Ben Cherington found a buyer for Stephen Drew, he can surely find a sucker for Buchholz, one eager to dive into the fairy tale of Buchholz’s talent, assured they will be the ones who figure out how to harness it.
The Red Sox have done enough and their fans have endured enough. We’re but four days away from the running punchline taking the mound once again for Boston, a team mired in last place in part because of their misguided faith in Buchholz.
“It’s a different group of guys, but at the same time, the guys we have are just as capable to do anything that the guys that left were doing, so you’ve just got to find a way to do it,” said Buchholz, the man leading the charge for the Boston Red Sox.
Perhaps not surprisingly, his first start in the role as team leader was an absolute disaster, indicative in every way of the pitcher that Clay Buchholz - talent or not - has become.
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