By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
This just in, Clay Buchholz is one of the most schizophrenic performing pitchers to ever take the mound for the Red Sox. At times he looks like a guy who couldn’t get a Little League line up out, now he is beginning to resemble a seemingly surging starter who could be a much-needed addition to the Sox rotation down the stretch.
Stop me if you have heard this story before.
Taking the ball for a spot start against the Padres in San Diego last night, and looking to halt a two-game losing streak, Buchholz allowed only one run on a sky-high home run that barely cleared the wall in right to Ryan Schimpf, while striking out six over 6 2/3 innings pitched. And while the Padres are hardly the modern-day version of the 1927 Yankees, the wiry righty looked in control of the game from his first pitch.
This is what makes Buchholz so maddening. It is obvious as you watch him pitch when the hamsters aren’t running loose inside his head, that he has the talent to carry a team for sizable stretches. Yet, when he gets spooked for whatever reason, he seemingly opens up the cages in his mind and lets the rodents run free.
Things got so bad for Buchholz this summer; he spent time in what manager John Farrell called “purgatory” this July. He had a 19-day stretch from 2nd of the month to the 21st when all he did was eat sunflower seeds in the bullpen. Approaching the trading deadline on August 1st, many believed that he would be dealt for at best future considerations, or simply given his outright release.
However, since the calendar flipped to August; Buchholz, it would appear, has been born again. During the dog days of summer, the tall Texan went from being a puppy, to being a major league pitcher once more. After posting a 5.11 ERA in July in just 12 1/3 innings work, he nearly cut that in half (2.86) with almost twice the amount of innings pitched (22). And in early August, when Farrell famously chose the chunky knuckleballer Steven Wright to pinch run for David Ortiz late in a game against the Dodgers in LA – which resulted in him injuring his pitching shoulder diving into second base and missing his next two starts, and possibly the rest of the season – Buchholz began to make his case to get back into the rotation with strong starts against Detroit and Tampa Bay.
Now some Red Sox fans are beginning to think that Buchholz could be a big piece to the puzzle down the stretch in their efforts to win the division.
If you are in that crowd, hit me up on Twitter. I got a little bridge for sale in Brooklyn.
The best-case scenario for Sox fans and Buchholz is for him to make me look like an idiot – not hard to do – and pitch like the ace he never has been through the month of September and beyond. I don’t think there is a Red Sox fan in the 5 ½ state region of New England (western Connecticut might as well be annexed by New York) that wouldn’t want to see David Ortiz end his career with a fourth World Series championship. And the odds are better for that to happen if Buchholz can somehow pitch at a high level for a couple of months.
As unlikely as that is, Sox fans know it is not impossible. In 2013, the rail-thin righty was the best pitcher in baseball, starting the season 9-0 with a minuscule ERA of 1.54, before he once again broke down. As the result of a phantom neck injury that no doctor could diagnose, he ended that season as a shell of the pitcher who started so strong, barely able to get through four innings in game four of the World Series in St. Louis against the Cardinals.
Unfortunately, it is far more likely that the bad Buchholz with come back sooner rather than later – especially if he is asked to perform in high leverage games against division opponents that make up the remainder of their schedule – which would not be good news for the Red Sox. Still if he can hold it together down the stretch, the Sox could get lucky in a couple of ways.
Not only would it mean that their chances of playing late into October would increase, it would also mean an asset that had essentially little or no value at the trade deadline, could be one of the hottest commodities this winter. The free-agent market for starting pitching is basically barren, and with the biggest name available will be that of the soon to be 33-year-old Doug Fister, taking a flyer on Buchholz – especially if he finished strong as a starter – might be appealing to some desperate MLB general manager next off season.
However, Red Sox fans, I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high for Clay to come to the rescue down the stretch. His 10-year history with the club says it is highly unlikely. Much like the flighty gal or guy you dated back in college could make for a great time after a party in the dorm, it never lasted for as long as you wanted, and it often got ugly as time wore on.
But who knows, maybe Buchholz could go on an extended bender, and champagne could be flowing again at Fenway this fall. If it does, it is far more likely to be the result of Ortiz playing the role of Señor Octubre one last time, than anything the timid Texan does in these next few weeks.