Can Clay Buchholz Return to Form in Time to Be Red Sox's Playoff Ace?

Chris StephensCorrespondent IIAugust 29, 2013

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 8:  Clay Buchholz #11 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first inning during the second game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park on June 8, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Boston Red Sox fans finally have a timetable concerning the return of Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz, who was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA and 81 strikeouts before going on the DL on June 9 with an irritation of the AC joint, was key in the dominance of the Red Sox pitching staff early in the year.

But when he does return, will Buchholz be able to return to form in time to be the Red Sox playoff ace?


A Few Obstacles First

The first, and obviously most important, is that Buchholz doesn't have any setbacks on the mound between now and Sept. 10. But after originally having his rehab start scheduled for July 14, Buchholz experienced shoulder discomfort and was pulled back, according to ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes.

...the team said he had bursitis in his right shoulder, but no structural damage. The Red Sox had been encouraged by Buchholz's progress, with Farrell talking last weekend about his starter nearing the point where he would throw a simulated game, then go on a rehab assignment.

But that schedule has been blown apart after Sunday's bullpen session in Oakland, when Buchholz complained of continuing soreness. 

His second obstacle is that his wife is scheduled to have labor induced when his rehab outing is scheduled. That could throw a monkey wrench into things but should only push things back a few days.


The Schedule

If all goes according to plan, Buchholz will have four starts before the end of the year. This is assuming that he would get his turn every fifth day as well.

Ironically, each of his four starts would come against all four of the other AL East teams. He'll get Tampa Bay, New York, Toronto and Baltimore in that order.

Then, as long as the Red Sox win the division, they won't have to play on Oct. 1. And depending on where they finish, Game 1 for the Red Sox will be Oct. 2 or 3. If the schedule were to stay the same, then Buchholz wouldn't be available to pitch until Games 2 or 3, depending on which days they happen.

Now, if Buchholz has his rehab start pushed back a few days due to his wife being in labor, he would get three starts in the regular season and could start Game 1. But that's only if the Red Sox deem him ready to start Game 1.


Can He Return to Form?

If Buchholz would have returned when he was originally scheduled, I would have all the confidence in the world that he could return to form. However, he's already had one setback, and there's no guarantee he won't have another.

Still, the Red Sox will be in a conundrum if he does return because he was their best pitcher before going on the disabled list. I wonder if they would put him in the bullpen and let him help the team there? And if they do, how do they justify putting him in the bullpen when he already had so much success as a starter?

Neck and shoulder issues are always a funny thing, but it's hard to guess how Buchholz will come out on the other end of it.

The Red Sox are in a great position to compete for a World Series title. They made a great move in acquiring Jake Peavy to solidify the rotation. That trade added a new dynamic to the argument.

If it were up to me, I'd watch him in his starts after he returns before making a full decision on him being in the playoff rotation. If he proves he can handle it, then I'd say throw him out there in Game 3 of the ALDS to see what happens.

Putting him in Game 1 or 2 would be a mistake for the simple fact that guys like Peavy and Jon Lester have been good as of late. Let them handle Games 1 and 2 to start out with and then make a decision on Buchholz after that.

There's always going to be a Game 3 and that could be where Buchholz is needed the most. Let's not forget to mention that if the Red Sox make the ALCS and/or the World Series and it goes to a Game 7, he could be used there as well.

I'm not putting all my chips behind Buchholz as of yet, but I could see him being an ace in the playoffs. He proved he was an ace before the injury. Now, he just has to prove it once again.