CLEVELAND Clay Buchholz wasnt about to hold himself up as some kind of stopper on the Red Sox staff.
He wanted to make sure everybody knows that each member of Bostons underperforming rotation is giving it their all every time out on the pitchers mound.
But results are what matter most in professional sports, and theyve all been in Buchholzs corner over the last few months while he continually pulls his team out of the losing doldrums.
It is what it is. Everybody wants to go out there and win every night. Unfortunately you cant always do that, and thats why this game is hard, said Buchholz, who improved to 10-3 on the season with a 4.24 ERA. It makes you focus a little more making good pitches, and not missing over the middle of the plate. That kind of focus is where you want to stay.
The lithe righty did it again on Friday night when he twirled a two-hit, complete game against the Cleveland Indians in a 3-2 win at Progressive Field. Buchholz improved to 9-2 in games following Red Sox losses over the last two years, and hes essentially become the teams ace while reputation guys named Beckett and Lester have faltered before him.
One area Beckett did help with Buchholz: showing him a split-fingered changeup grip last month. Since he incorporated that pitch with his standard changeup grip hes gone at least seven innings while allowing two runs or less in each of his last five starts.
It was probably about five starts ago that I started mixing that split change in when before Id only been using it when the straight change wasnt working. Now Im throwing both and getting some good defense behind me, said Buchholz. I felt good and I was able to throw the cutter where I wanted to. The changeup was down all night. Everything is working and rolling right now for me. Hopefully this sparks us and gets us going.
Above and beyond it all he improved to 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA over his last 11 starts dating back to May 27, and has the lowest ERA in the American League over that time period.
Its hard to believe Buchholz has turned it around so completely after struggling dreadfully through April and May when some were even unbelievably calling for him to go down to Pawtucket.
But his manager was one of his stanch supporters.
I believed in him, said Valentine. There were some Doubting Thomass out there, but I wanted to stick with him. He was throwing without a changeup earlier in the season, and then he and Josh worked on that split-fingered changeup in the bullpen right before one of his starts. Hes been using it ever since.
That unyielding dedication paid off on Friday when he dominated Cleveland with his cut fastball and two different changeups with a two-seam fastball mixed in liberally.
Buchholz gave up a home run and a double to Asdrubal Cabrera in his first two at bats, and didnt surrender a single hit to anybody else in an Indians uniform.
That was just what the doctor ordered. He was terrific, said Valentine. It was excellent. Sixty-something pitches after six innings and I thought he was in control all the way. He pitched great. There was no real strong contact aside from Asdrubal Cabrera.
He was using all his pitches. He was keeping the ball down in the zone. He was working both sides of the plate. They had all those left-handers in there and you saw him working the inside part of the plate.
In order for the Sox to get back into the playoff picture theyll need more from the rest of Buchholzs partners in the starting rotation. But they wouldnt even be in the conversation right now if Buchholz wasnt going through one of those unhittable stretches hes become known for in his sometimes-brilliant career with the Sox.
Its time for the rest of the Sox rotation to start playing catch-up to Clay.