Clay Buchholz had yet another strong outing Thursday night in Boston’s 6-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. He went eight innings while allowing only three runs, as he guided the Red Sox to a victory before they started their important weekend series against the New York Yankees.
At this point of the season, Buchholz is unquestionably the staff ace.
He started off the year terribly, becoming the first pitcher to begin a season allowing five runs in each of his five starts. As late as May 21, he was sporting a 7.84 ERA and had recorded only one quality start in nine games.
Since that late-May outing against Baltimore, Buchholz has posted a 2.19 ERA in 90.1 innings and has won seven of his eight decisions.
Buchholz was the only pitcher in the American League who finished in the top 10 in ERA in both June and July, with marks of 2.40 and 2.45, respectively. After Thursday’s performance, he has a 1.50 ERA in August, which once again ranks in the top 10.
So what’s changed for Buchholz?
He’s been locating his pitches much better than earlier in the season, which has helped increase his strikeout rate and decrease his walk rate.
Buchholz became the 44th pitcher to strike out the side in only nine pitches on Thursday, and in this video on MLB.com, you can see how well Buchholz was locating his repertoire of pitches.
In his first nine starts of the year, including that May 21 game at Baltimore, Buchholz had six games with a walk rate that exceeded 10 percent. In 12 starts since then, he’s only done that once.
Additionally, in those first nine starts, he had a strikeout percentage over 20 percent twice. He’s done that six times in his subsequent 12 starts.
He’s also been limiting the percentage of line drives hit against him.
In three of his first nine starts, he was hit for a line-drive percentage of over 25 percent and had no single-digit percentage outings. In his next 12 starts, he’s been under 10 percent twice and has been above 25 percent only once.
It’s all added up to a magnificent stretch in which Buchholz has single-handedly kept the Red Sox in the playoff race. Since June 1, the Sox have gone 9-2 in games started by Buchholz and 23-36 in all other games.
If the Sox don’t make the playoffs this year, not all is lost; they now have a legitimate No. 1 starter next Opening Day, and his name isn’t Jon Lester or Josh Beckett.