Clay Buchholz is back. Just in time, wouldn’t you say?
Who better to play the role of stopper for the reeling Red Sox than the 2-4, 7.02 ERA pitcher making his first start since May 26? Boston has lost five of its first six games on its current road trip, is free-falling into obscurity, and on Wednesday night manager John Farrell hands the ball to its most confounding element.
“It’s tough to sit back and watch and it stinks when the team scuffling and you can’t help,” said Buchholz, who is coming off a minor league rehab stint in which he went 0-1 with a 2.53 ERA. “I’ve been looking forward to this. I felt I needed to put the work in and I did to get better.”
Perfect. Buchholz then has a wondrous stage set up for him as he looks to prove that he has solved whatever failed him during the early portion this cataclysmal season. It’s almost as if Red Sox starting pitchers have thrown the gauntlet at their hapless offensive teammates in Seattle; John Lackey and Jake Peavy combined to give up 14 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings the past two nights. Those performances followed a nine-game stretch in which the Sox went only 4-5 despite stellar outings from their starting staff. Tuesday night’s 8-2 loss to the Mariners saw Peavy deliver the worst start of his 2014 season, ditto for Lackey one night earlier.
Boston is 35-43 on the year, 8 ½ games behind the Blue Jays in the American League East. Only the Rays, Astros, Cubs, Padres, and Diamondbacks have worse winning percentages. (Really working out for Chicago’s Theo Epstein and since-fired Josh Byrnes in San Diego, huh?) The Sox are seven games out of a wild card spot, with nine teams ahead of them. It’s June 24, early in baseball, especially for a team with this much talent on the mound. But for all intents and purposes, it’s over.
So, hell, why not bring Buchholz back at a time when absolutely nobody – including Buchholz himself – has any clue what to expect this time around.
You do have to admit, it’s all a little odd. Last year at this time, Buchholz went on the disabled list after, ahem, sleeping the wrong way with his infant daughter, and it basically took an APB to get him to get back out on the hill. Even after receiving a clean bill of health from Dr. James Andrews in late July, a hemming and hawing Buchholz didn’t make his return to the Red Sox until Sept. 10. This time, he didn’t want to go on the DL, only relented once the Red Sox made up his phony knee injury, then balked at pitching in Triple-A Pawtucket because there was “nothing left” for him there. In the wake of his first, not-so-great rehab start for the PawSox, Buchholz immediately declared himself ready to return, only to have the administration put on the brakes for a few days and another minor league appearance.
Why so reluctant a year ago and so eager now?
“This is a guy who is going to add depth but give us a boost,” Farrell told the Globe. “He’s in a good place. Physically, he’s ready to go. A healthy Clay Buchholz is a good thing.”
That remains to be seen.
So is just how short of a leash Buchholz is on with Farrell and the Red Sox baseball operations staff. His return Wednesday is going to mean a roster move (Chris Capuano designated for assignment?) and throw a wrench into a starting rotation that had been rejuvenated with the additions of Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa. Farrell said Tuesday that the Sox will keep Workman in the rotation after he finishes his ridiculous six-game suspension, and will likely start Friday night in New York. That puts De La Rosa’s role in some limbo, even with a 2-2, 2.51 mark to tout in his favor. Felix Doubront will work out the bullpen for the near future, a role the lefty scoffed at last fall in advance of the postseason.
“You’re trying to fit a certain number into a space,” Farrell said. “You have to be respectful of what guys have done at this level. It’s not cut and dried. We’re getting close to that point.
“It’s still a bottom-line game. We’re conscious of that. The easy move is to send guys with options back, but everyone can see Rubby and Brandon have performed as well as anyone on our staff. We’ve got to take a look at every possibility.”
With Boston free-falling in the standings, that probably hints to even less patience with Buchholz moving forward, as Allen Webster and company itch for major league auditions as the Sox look to 2015.
“I’ve gone through some lows in my career so far,” Buchholz said. “Obviously taking a step back to take two steps forward is worth it.”
Maybe. He can finally prove it Wednesday night.