In the fall of 2007, when it was easy to dream about the impact Clay Buchholz might have in the postseason, the Red Sox did the prudent thing. When he reached the maximum number of innings they wanted him to throw, they ended his season and he watched the playoffs.
This year, Buchholz has another chance to make his postseason debut. Despite throwing far more innings this season than he has in any other professional year, Buchholz feels strong and will apparently not be limited by how much he throws.
“I don’t think there’s any caution flags that have been thrown out right now,” Buchholz said. “They haven’t mentioned anything to me about it. I think if that’s the case, if I was getting close, I think they would take me out in the fifth or sixth inning. I feel strong. I think we’re going more on how my body feels than anything.”
Buchholz threw a bullpen session today, and the ball came out of his hand like he wanted it to, like he could put the right amount of steam on the ball. This is a good sign for the Red Sox. Buchholz has already thrown 20 more innings, minor leagues included, than in any season of his career, about 35 more innings than last season. And yet, he does not feel it. He knew he had thrown more this season than in any previous year, but he had no clue exactly how many innings he has thrown.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Buchholz said. “I definitely don’t want to be sitting out for that reason. I feel good about how my body feels right now. I wouldn’t see any reason for them to do that unless there was something wrong with me.”
If the Red Sox handle Buchholz the same way the handled Jon Lester last season, Buchholz will have nothing to worry about. It is instructive to compare Buchholz’s innings to Lester’s innings in similar points of their development. (It is understood that Lester’s health made his development unique, but his innings totals can still provide a fair comparison.)
Clay Buchholz Innings*
2007: 148 total innings (125 1/3 minors; 22 2/3 majors)
2008**: 134 2/3 total innings (58 2/3 minors; 76 2/3 majors)
2009: 170 1/3 innings (99 minors; 71 1/3 majors)
Jon Lester Innings
2006: 128 total innings (46 2/3 minors; 81 1/3 majors)
2007: 153 2/3 total innings (90 2/3 minors; 63 majors)
2008: 223 total innings (0 minors; 210 1/3 majors; 12 2/3 playoffs)
(*To prove how drastically better he’s been this season, Buchholz has thrown 71 1/3 innings in 12 major league starts this season compared to 76 innings in 15 major league starts and one appearance out of the bullpen last year.)
(**Buchholz also threw 21 innings in the Arizona Fall League.)
Buchholz will probably make three more starts this year, which will give him about 190 innings before the playoffs begin. If the Sox make the playoffs and Buchholz is the third starter – both seemingly good bets – Buchholz could reach or surpass roughly 200 this season.
So long as Buchholz continues to feel like he does now, that should not be an issue. The Red Sox let Lester pitch as much as he could. He remained strong all season, pitching his best in the playoffs, even throwing seven impressive innings in Game 7 of the ALCS.
“That’s where I want to be,” Buchholz said.