The 2013 Boston Red Sox will need a lot of player contributions if they want to rebound from last year’s disappointing 93 losses. In particular, the team needs a big season from pitcher Clay Buchholz.
The 28-year-old right-hander has struggled to find consistency during his six-year major league career, but he’s become a source of optimism for the upcoming season.
Buchholz was a supplemental first-round draft choice of the Red Sox in 2005 out of McNeese State University. He debuted with Boston in 2007 and famously no-hit the Baltimore Orioles in just his second major league start. Since then, his results have been a mixed bag.
Buchholz is a combined 46-32 with a 3.92 ERA in 107 career games (105 starts). His best season came in 2010, when he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in 28 starts. That season, he was named an All Star and finished sixth in American League Cy Young voting.
There have also been nagging injuries, including a stress fracture in his back that caused Buchholz to miss all but 14 starts in 2011.
He went 11-8 with a 4.76 ERA last year, throwing a career-high 189.1 innings. Buchholz was much better down the stretch, however, as his 3.76 ERA in the second half of the season was nearly two runs better than his 5.53 mark from the first half.
The Red Sox need Buchholz to take the leap to a dependable and durable starter who can log innings and keep the team in games.
These expectations are not lost on the righty, who told the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman that his goal is to become a consistent workhorse:
Yeah, that’s a big thing for me, I want to get to that point and hopefully that will eliminate all the small talk that’s been talked about me in the past. That’s probably the common goal for every starting pitcher. I think the key to that is just being healthy and being able to go out there every fifth day and not missing a span of time during the season, and not being able to make your 30 or so starts.
The Red Sox have already invested in Buchholz’s potential. They agreed to a four-year, $29.9 million extension just after the start of the 2011 season, with two option years that could be worth an additional combined $26.5 million and keep him in Boston through the 2017 season.
If he can be even a league-average pitcher during the remainder of his contract, Buchholz would be extremely valuable. Pitching is the hottest commodity in baseball, with Justin Verlander’s recent record-setting $180 million extension setting the market pace.
Buchholz will be the team’s No. 2 starter this season behind ace Jon Lester. The baby-faced pitcher is no longer a prospect and needs to perform like the well-paid veteran that he is because of questions marks surrounding the team’s rotation.
Lester is trying to bounce back from a career-worst 9-14 record and 4.82 ERA last year. Ryan Dempster, signed to a free-agent contract during the offseason, has just a 4.76 career ERA against American League teams. And John Lackey is returning from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched in a regular season game since 2011.
Felix Doubront, meanwhile, has a lot of potential. He struck out more than a batter per inning last season, his first full year in Boston’s rotation. Although he threw well this spring, though, he did anger the front office by showing up to camp in poor shape.
If Buchholz can turn in a consistent season, it would go a long way in solidifying the rotation that has so few guarantees. If spring training stats are any indication, he is ready to prove himself this season. He made six starts this spring, going 3-0 with a 0.79 ERA while striking out 22 batters in 22.2 innings.
Buchholz is also picking up his pace between pitches in an effort to keep hitters more off-balance. This is a philosophy taught by new Boston pitching coach Juan Nieves and something Buchholz explained to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber will be a tool that will really help his game:
The pace of the game is big for me. That does a lot to help me. It’s more just, get the ball and get a pitch and throw it and take all the thinking out of it. It’s been particularly one of my problems that whenever something hits the fan, I slow the game down and make sure I’m doing the right thing, and sometimes that might hurt me more than it’ll help me.
The proof will be in the pudding once the games start to count. Buchholz’s performance this season will not only go a long way in determining the fate of the Red Sox, it will also establish his own legacy.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference