FORT MYERS, Fla. -- His command was off a bit, but for Clay Buchholz Monday night, just being back on a mound and facing major league hitters for the first time since June 17 of last season was accomplishment enough.
"It's been a while," admitted Buchholz after tossing two scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins. "It was a long time coming. In the first inning, the mindset was just to relax and not overthrow.
"There was a lot of work that went into it, a lot of time off, a lot of struggle. It was definitely worth all the work to be out there and not feel any (pain)."
Buchholz was eventually diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back last season and missed the entire second half of the season.
As the team attempted to hold off the Tampa Bay Rays for the wild card spot, Buchholz was in uniform for the final series of the year in Baltimore, but didn't see any action.
He later pitched in the Instructional League in October before dedicating himself to rehab work in the off-season.
Monday night, pitching felt natural again for Buchholz.
"I had to compensate a lot last year, to not feel anything (in the back)," he said. "I was altering everything -- my step to home plate, my leg kick and all that was going to do was lead to something else (being injured). I definitely felt 180-degress different."
Buchholz is on a stabilization program three days per week which helps maintain the strength in his lower back and he's committed to it.
"It's more to stabilize it and for that injury not to re-occur," he said. "I want to do it. There are even other guys on the team who have started doing stuff just to get strength there because even as position players and hitters, they twist and turn every game they play. It's not just for guys who've been hurt; it's for guys to prevent (any future injuries)."
Buchholz mixed in two-seam fastballs, four-seam fastballs, curveballs, changeups and cutters Monday night, allowing two walks and a hit batsman with no hits and two strikeouts in his two innings.
Said David Ortiz: "Clay's one of our best pitchers and having him healthy, that's a plus-plus. Everyone knows what Clay's capable of doing. We missed the heck out of him last year. Watching him go down it was like, 'Whoo -- what are we going to do?'
"Hopefully, he stays healthy all year."