ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. It was an eventful night for starter Clay Buchholz, and in the end, not one that resulted in a victory.
Along the way, there was a balk leading to a run, a hit batsman and a comebacker which struck his heel, helping to lead to his exit quicker than he would have liked.
Still, there was progress.
Following a stretch of six straight starts to open the season in which he allowed five earned runs or more each time, Buchholz contributed his second straight impressive start in a 21 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
He pitched into the sixth, and after being hit on the left heel by a ball hit back up the middle, came out after just 87 pitches.
"I felt like, overall, everything was good," said Buchholz. "My changeup came back tonight and I felt really good throwing that. I was able to locate curveballs early in the count and use it as a finish pitch, too."
Both runs charged to Buchholz came under somewhat bizarre circumstances. He balked home the first run when his cleat got caught on the mound as he attempted to try a fake-to-third-to-first move. Then, in the sixth, he allowed a sharp single back to the mound which clipped him on the left heel and caromed across the infield.
One batter later, he was out, and one batter after that, Joyce scored the only other Tampa Bay run of the game.
"I think it was more (a factor) after I came out," he said of the heel. "It was a little sore. It's nothing big. I didn't even have to get x-rays. You always want to stay out there. If your runs get cashed in, you want to be the guy that cashes them in and give the reliever a fresh inning."
Buchholz chose to emphasize the return of his changeup, which had been spotty for the first six weeks, as the night's most positive development.
"It's been a while since I've been able to throw it with some conviction," he said, "on 2-and-2 counts, or 1-and-2 counts to get a strikeout. But yeah, it's a big pitch for me."
"He pitched much better tonight," said Valentine. "He came up with a newfound changeup and I thought it really helped his repertoire. He controlled the head of the bat much better and got swings and misses."
"There's always things you can work on," said Buchholz. "But I feel like I've put in a lot of work on the side to the point where I can go out, pitch with confidence and use all of my pitches. It's still a work in progress, but going out and throwing against a team like this and holding them to two runs, it's good to go out and throw that way."