Buchholz delivers dominant performance

697970.jpg

Buchholz delivers dominant performance

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.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

world_series_francona_epstein_102416.png

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.