Buchholz doesn't skip a beat in return to Sox

Buchholz doesn't skip a beat in return to Sox
September 11, 2013, 12:15 am
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It had been a little more than three months since Clay Buchholz was last on the mound for the Red Sox, but as his catcher guided him through his return Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, it sure didn't seem that long.
"He looked great,'' marveled Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "It looked like he hadn't missed a day.''
Indeed, Buchholz seemed to pick up right where he left off in June, when he was in contention for the title of Best Starter in baseball, off to a 9-0, 1.71 ERA before neck and shoulder woes slowed him down, then idled him until Tuesday.
"It's really good to see Clay back on the mound for us," added John Farrell after Buchholz and three relievers combined to shut out the Tampa Bay Rays, 2-0. "He was efficient."
The Sox had plotted out a maximum of 75-80 pitches for Buchholz, who was at 74 after retiring the side in order in the fifth, his final inning of work. Buchholz allowed just three hits -- one never left the infield -- and struck out six, while walking one.
Layoff? What layoff?
"Three months off and throwing up a zero against a team that has been scuffling," said Saltalamacchia, "but can do damage at any time."
Buchholz retired the side in order in the first, then worked around a pair of singles in the second before fanning Jose Molina to end the Tampa threat.
He got some help from his batterymate in the third when Saltalamacchia threw out David DeJesus attempting to steal second. It was more of the same in the fourth when Buchholz and Saltalamacchia combined on an inning-ending strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play, with the former whiffing James Loney and the latter gunning down Matt Joyce.
"It felt pretty good," understated Buchholz, who became the first Red Sox pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 to start a season 10-0. "It was a night where I was able to miss the fat part of the bat and get some ground balls. Overall, I felt good."
There was plenty of familiarity between Buchholz and the Rays, residing in the same division and playing six series per season. But knowing what he throws and when he likes to throw it didn't help the Rays much.
"To face a lineup like that," said Buchholz, "that I've faced a lot over the last couple of years . . . they know what I've got and I know them, too, so it's almost a chess match every time you go up against those guys."
For much of the night, Buchholz seemed a step ahead. His fastball velocity was down some -- he sat at 90-91 mph much of the night, but occasioned reached back to top out of 93 mph -- and his command of the fastball wasn't as precise at might be a few weeks from now.
But as Saltalamacchia conceded, that constitutes nitpicking.
"I know he was going to pitch and give us a good chance (to win)," said the catcher, who also knocked in the second run of the night with a long sacrifice fly to center. "But to be able to go into a game like this after not pitching in a big league game for that long . . . And to be able to keep your poise and just look like it's another game -- that's tough to do.
"But he's proven. Like I said, everything was crisp. His changeup was still good, curveball cutter. And he made pitches when he needed to with his fastball."
By his own admission, Buchholz was "anxious...is the best way to describe it" as gametime drew closer Tuesday and got to the ballpark earlier than normal, fighting some nervous energy.
"It's been a long time coming for me," said Buchholz.
It sure didn't look it, however, once he started to pitch.