It wasn’t too long ago that Clay Buchholz was the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues. A bonafide future ace in the making with a repertoire matched only by Joba Chamberlain. Plus a changeup, curveball, and a serviceable fastball.
A no-hitter in September against the Orioles gave Red Sox fans a glimpse into the bright and Cy Young-filled future. The sky was the limit for Buchholz.
Then it all came crashing down, abruptly and suddenly. No longer was Buchholz destined for greatness as a 24-year old weapon for the Boston Red Sox.
Clay was destined for the minor leagues after posting a 6.75 ERA in 76 atrocious innings with the big club. The man deemed untouchable in the Johan Santana talks would now have to pick up the scraps of his career in the Eastern League, while the man deemed tradable for Santana is winning game after game for the Red Sox—Jon Lester.
How the tides have turned.
If you polled a group of Sox fans on a street corner somewhere in Boston and asked them the biggest disappointment of the ‘08 season, some would say Josh Beckett or Jason Varitek, CoCo Crisp or Julio Lugo.
While those candidates surely deserve mention, Clay Buchholz takes home the prize. His starts used to be a much-anticipated event, one where Sox fans saw a young arm with dominating stuff and the ability to make top-flight major league hitters look silly, even while developing and learning the ways of the majors.
We saw it in the no-hitter. We saw it in that phenomenal start down in Tampa in April. Now? You can’t help but shield your eyes at any point of tension.
I’m sure the breaking point for the Red Sox front office surfaced at many a times during these last nine depressing starts for Buchholz, but the final straw that broke the camel’s back had to be Wednesday in Baltimore, prompting the final and overdue demotion to Double-A.
After botching a fielding play, Buchholz exploded once again, losing all control of his pitches and, if only the young pitcher had a shell, he’d climb in and hide like a frightened turtle. He walked Juan Castro on four consecutive fastballs.
The floodgates were opening and Buchholz’ major league career looked shakier than John Edwards’ future political career.
In his last nine starts, Clay has been handed a lead in the first three innings in six of them. He has lost every one of those leads.
In the middle of the season, he was sent back down to Pawtucket to perfect his mechanics, work on command of the fastball, and change his arm slot for more success with said fastball.
Instead, he’s found failure.
The new arm slot has not only done nothing to aid the fastball, it has made the looping curveball more readable, allowing opposing hitters to lay off the curve and crush the fastball all over the yard. Quite simply, the young arm cannot locate the fastball in any regard. When runners reach base, he morphs into a total head case, even admitting it himself in several quotes.
While most young pitchers are inconsistent when they first enter the big leagues, Buchholz has been worse: a complete disaster every time he toes the rubber.
Am I giving up on him? Not in any way.
We saw the development with Lester, who only managed to put up adequate numbers because of his keen ability to slide his way out of any jam. We’ve seen it with Ervin Santana of the Angels, a phenomenal arm who turned into a Beer Leaguer on the road until finally finding the light this season.
We’ve seen it with the Mets Mike Pelfrey—just months ago, Mets fans were threatening to crucify him. While most young pitchers don’t experience such trials as Buchholz, it often takes time and patience.
In no way should the Red Sox front office or their fans give up on Buchholz. I’m crossing my fingers a voyage to Double-A to restart his career is a strong message that Clay needs to keep his head on straight and lend 100% focus to being the best pitcher he can possibly be. You don’t give up on a potential No. 1 starter this easily. Much like Phil Hughes, Buccholz can still be The Man.
You just wonder if it’s too late. You wonder if keeping Buchholz at the major league level may end up costing the Red Sox the division title or potentially a playoff spot.
Maybe this struggle will turn out to be the best thing to happen in the life of Clay Buchholz. For the future, the Red Sox surely need this guy anchoring the top of their rotation.