FOR BUCHHOLZ, A LONG, YET RAPID, DESCENT

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FOR BUCHHOLZ, A LONG, YET RAPID, DESCENT

With injuries to Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Bartolo Colon and Tim Wakefield this season, pressure mounted on the Red Sox organization and forced them to keep 23-year-old Clay Buchholz in the rotation long after he should have been sent down to the minors.

The most recent outing by the former "Can't Miss Kid," on August 20, was just the latest example of his long, yet rapid, demise. Buchholz surrendered five earned runs over just 2 1/3 innings. It was not an isolated incident. In fact, it was part of a months-long trend.

Over his last 10 appearances (nine of them starts), the former wunderkind pitched just 42 innings, giving up a whopping 43 runs on 62 hits and 27 walks. That amounted to a cumulative ERA of 9.21. Over that stretch, Buchholz went 0-7 while his ERA ballooned from 3.71 on May 2 to its current 6.75.

It's the kind of thing that could break the confidence of any veteran, much less a kid with just 18 career starts.

In fact, while calling the game last Wednesday night, analyst Jerry Remy spoke at length about Buccholz's lack of confidence and apparent desperation. The kid looked lost on the mound and seemed to be just as confused about his slide as everyone else. Standing on the rubber in a big league ballpark is a tough place for a young man to face that kind of uncertainty.

The sad reality that's played out before our unbelieving eyes is that Clay Buchholz is a mess. He can't help the Red Sox this year. Perhaps that should have been realized months ago. But the team has suffered numerous losses to its starting rotation and was forced to let Buchholz unravel out of sheer desperation. Clearly, the kid needs time to get his head straight in the minors, and during the offseason. A good pitching coach will have to work with him all winter to get things right and restore his beleaguered confidence. He'll be okay eventually, but not in time to help this year.

It was a case of too much, too soon. After his no-hitter against Baltimore last September -- in just his second Major League start -- everyone thought we were witnessing the emergence of the next Roger Clemens, another fellow Texan and former blue-chip Sox prospect. As of this moment, that expectation hasn't been realized. Hopefully it will in time.

Right now it's Portland. This winter, who knows? But being anywhere other than Boston, away from the outsized glare and spotlight of its rabid media and fans, should help. Boston is a place with enormous and unusual fan interest and expectations, and that pressure isn't well-suited for even many veterans. It's something the organization considers with every free agent or trade consideration.

Going away should give Buchholz the time he needs to figure things out and rediscover what it was that made the Red Sox so confident, and so excited, about him in the first place.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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