BOSTON – Although he gave up two runs in the first three innings, right-hander Clay Buchholz -- who had been handed a 4-0 lead by his teammates in the first -- easily handled the Astros Thursday night at Fenway Park for his major league-best fifth win of the season.
Those were the only runs Houston would get off Buchholz in Boston's 7-2 victory. He went 7 2/3 innings and allowed only six hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts while improving to 5-0, 1.19 for the season.
The Astros got a run in the second when Chris Carter led off with a double off the wall in left, took third on Fernando Martinez’s single to right and scored when Matt Dominguez grounded into a double play. They added added another run in the third when Marwin Gonzalez led off with a double to center and scored on Jason Castro’s two-out single to right.
After that, there was little Houston could do against Buchholz. He faced one batter over the minimum from the fourth to the seventh. With two outs in the eighth, Buchholz gave up a single to Jose Altuve. The hit ended Buchholz’s night.
“From the fourth inning on, he got into a much better rhythm, became much more efficient,” said manager John Farrell. “[He] had the benefit of the four runs in the first inning, but he gave us what we needed and that was a night to go deep in the game by a starter to give our back-end [bullpen] guys a night of rest. And the offense gave us just enough support to get through it . . . [Very] solid outing from Clay once again.”
Yes, once again. And this time he had to do so without the use of his two-seamer -- his bread and butter -- for most of the game.
“I was having trouble gripping the ball there for a little bit,” he said. “No moisture in the air. Finally I was able to get a grip consistently and that allowed me to speed up a little bit between pitches.
'I felt good. I really didn’t have much command of my two-seamer. So I threw some four-seam fastballs.”
Buchholz has gone at least seven innings in all five starts.
“I think it goes back to he knows himself that much more as a pitcher,” Farrell said. “Even tonight, when things didn’t start out as crisp and efficient as he's been in his other starts, it clicked for him the fourth inning. And I think he recognizes the ability to put the ball on the ground with certain pitches against different types of hitters. That’s a key. A couple of double plays again tonight lends to the overall efficiency. But still I just think it’s Clay maturing as a pitcher overall.”
Buchholz said before the season his goal was to pitch at least 200 innings, a mark that has so far eluded him in his career. Going deep into the game -- especially the day after four relievers were used -- is important to him.
“[The bullpen] needed someone to go out and eat some innings,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was going to get to that point early on. It hurts us when [the starters] can’t go six or seven innings.
“Things are going right right now. Even the hard balls are hit right at someone. That doesn’t happen all the time so you have to savor it when you get it. Guys are scoring me runs. I haven’t had situations where I’ve had to protect a one-run lead, so there’s less pressure out there and all I have to do is throw the ball to location."
It was the fourth consecutive start in which he’s recorded at least six strikeouts.
“[Buchholz has four] pitches [he can throw] for strikes,” Farrell said. “He and [catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] have done a very good job of reading swings and the aggressiveness [of hitters]. He’s done a very good job of pitching ahead in the count, most of all. And its allowed him to pitch to a scouting report and exploit some holes of given hitters. And I think it’s just that maturity. The game’s slowing down for him. And when he’s on the mound, the fact that he’s got things under control. I think you’re more readily able to see the swings that are taking place at the plate and react accordingly.”
His 1.19 ERA is the lowest by a Sox pitcher in his first five starts since Roger Clemens posted a 0.66 mark in 1991.
“Last couple of years I’ve been a slow starter,” Buchholz said. “So it feels good to be out there and have a little bit of confidence early on and that helps a lot.”
That confidence is well-earned.
“At 5-0, the way he’s pitching a baseball,” Farrell said, “he should be pitching very confidently right now.”
-- At 15-7 the Sox are off to their best start since 2008, when they started with the same record.
-- The Sox have won the opening game in all eight of their series this season. It is the first time in team history they have done so, according to STATS.
-- Mike Napoli’s seventh-inning double was his 16th extra-base hit -- 11 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs -- of the season, tying the team’s single-season record for the month of April, with Jose Offerman in 1999. Napoli is the first right-handed Sox batter with 16 extra-base hits in April. He also tied the Sox record for doubles in April. It has been done three other times, with Ryan Sweeney last year being the most recent.
--Daniel Bard, who was called up before Wednesday’s game, made his season debut, pitching a scoreless ninth, with one hit and one strikeout.
--After Tuesday’s 13-0 loss to the A’s in dismal weather, the Sox invited anyone with tickets to that game to exchange them for either Wednesday’s or Thursday’s game. Approximately 4,800 people took the Sox up on their offer on Thursday, bringing the two-day total to approximately 6,200.