In his second start in his big-league career, could Clay Buchholz have set the bar any higher for the expectations fans would have of him? Hardly.
Buchholz was already Boston's top pitching prospect at the time, added to Boston's roster as a September call-up in 2007. The rest is history.
Buchholz dominated the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park that night, the first of September. The then 23-year-old Buchholz no-hit the Baltimore Orioles en route to a 10-0 victory.
During the historic start, when Buchholz became just the third pitcher since 1900 to throw a no-no in his first or second start, Buchholz struck out nine. Four men were put on base, with three walks and a hit batter. Also, Buchholz needed only 115 pitches to get through nine innings, 31 batters.
Buchholz was more than useful for the Red Sox down the stretch in 2007. In the month of September, Buchholz compiled a 3-1 record, 22 strikeouts, a 1.59 ERA, and a 1.05 WHIP.
In 2008, the hype built up around Buchholz, named the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America in February of 2008, was too much for Buchholz to handle.
Buchholz spent part of the year at the major league level and part of the year in the minors, showing a totally different pitcher in each league.
Buchholz went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 76 innings for the 2008 season. Buchholz' WHIP was an abomination, sitting at 1.76.
Buchholz had taken a step back, losing confidence in his fastball, and getting lit up every time he stepped to the mound. In the eyes of everyone, Buchholz was officially a bust.
In the minors, in between two stints with the Red Sox in 2008, Buchholz still flashed those signs of greatness. For Pawtucket, Buchholz went 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and 43 strikeouts.
This year, with the spotlight off, Buchholz has the chance to shine once again. Buchholz is no longer a Red Sox top prospect, no longer a Baseball America top prospect. Just a talented young pitcher trying to prove his 2008 was a fluke.
Buchholz is also in an advantageous position at the moment.
Although the first three pitchers are set in stone with Beckett, Lester, and Matsuzaka, it's not too late for Clay to win a spot at the back end of the rotation.
Brad Penny's shoulder isn't as strong as it is supposed to be, keeping him out of action for the time being, and John Smoltz is out until May or June.
That narrows down the rotation competition quite a bit. Depending on how Penny's shoulder progresses, this leaves at least two, maybe three guys going for the last two spots. Although reports say that Penny's shoulder is nothing to worry about, the Red Sox also aren't eager to rush him back into action.
With Buchholz starting to turn heads in spring training, this could mean a significant chunk of playing time for Buchholz in the coming season. With his confidence back and something to prove, this could be Buchholz's last shot at proving himself.