TORONTO — Clay Buchholz has started throwing again and the hope is that he can return to the Red Sox close to the end of the season. His back feels good, with the caveat that he has yet to throw off the mound.
Let’s assume for a second that Buchholz suffers no setbacks and by the start of the postseason has built up sufficient arm strength to throw 50 or so pitches in a game.
Here’s my crazy idea: Start him.
Buchholz has virtually no experience out of the bullpen. He has pitched in relief twice in the majors, the last time in 2008, and twice in the minors. Yesterday, when asked about the idea of pitching in relief, Buchholz made a face. His answer was a meandering sentence that loosely translated to, “Well, if I really, really have to, I guess so. But I’d hate every second of it.”
It seems a little crazy to thrust a guy coming off an injury into an unfamiliar role. So before the series, get Buchholz on his five-day routine, set him up for Game 4 and tell him to go as long as he can. Then unleash Loony Tunes Aceves and his sweaty hat to get the ball to Daniel Bard.
That seems a lot more productive than putting Buchholz in the bullpen and telling him to wait for the phone to ring.
Starters are finicky dudes. Buchholz likes walking around on his start days with his Beats by Dr. Dre headphones on and his game pants rolled up around his knees. He tunes out the world and gets ready in his way. You can’t do that in the bullpen.
The Red Sox are 56-18 when they score first this season. The chances of scoring first are a lot better with Buchholz on the mound than Lackey, who has a 5.62 ERA in the first inning. Buchholz has a 3.21. He’s also a guy who pitches to contact and gets a lot of ground balls. The odds of him going 3+ innings on a limited pitch count aren’t too bad.
The real beauty of this plan is if it works in the first series, Buchholz could go a little deeper in his next game. If he throws an inning in relief, nothing much changes.
The one downside is that it takes Aceves out of the bullpen mix for other games. But come the postseason, with the days off, you can lean on Bard and Jonathan Papelbon for 7-9 outs instead of six. I’m also assuming that Matt Albers/Franklin Morales/somebody else can get you an out or two.
So there you have it, The Buchholz Plan. If you have a better one, feel free to explain it in the comments section.