Buchholz to start Tuesday for Red Sox

Buchholz to start Tuesday for Red Sox
September 8, 2013, 1:30 pm
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NEW YORK -- Sidelined for just over three months with a shoulder ailment, Clay Buchholz is poised to rejoin the Red Sox rotation Tuesday at Tropicana Field -- and he couldn't be happier.
      
"Mentally I'm ready," Buchholz said after a bullpen session Sunday morning in Yankee Stadium. "I think that's what everyone was questioning -- mental toughness and everything. But I know my body better than everybody else does. I'm comfortable pitching now. There's nothing wrong that's come up."
      
Buchholz last made a major league start on June 8, and won his first nine decisions. But what was once thought to be a stiff neck turned into a summer-long battle with shoulder inflammation, complete with several setbacks.
      
While Buchholz was idle, the Red Sox remained in first place -- or just behind -- for three months. Now that he's set to be activated again, the Red Sox enjoy their biggest lead of the season, ahead of second-place Tampa Bay by 8 1/2 games in the American League East.
      
With the Sox comfortably ahead, that puts less pressure on Buchholz as he readies to return to the mound.
      
"I guess, I don't know," he shrugged. "I guess you don't have to put too much pressure on yourself. We've got a little bit of a cushion. But I've been through it before where that disappears really quick. Obviously we still want to come out and win games. That's my goal in my mind, to come back and be out there and try to help the team win."
      
In Buchholz's absence, the rotation not only survived, but thrived. Heading into Sunday's series finale at Yankee Stadium, the Boston rotation sported a collective 3.94 ERA, good for fourth in the American League.
      
"I think (good) health is probably the biggest thing," said manager John Farrell. "To think that we haven't missed starts other than Clay is pretty remarkable when you consider the number of other relievers we've had to bring through because of injury. We've been able to avoid it in the rotation.
      
"Those holes are much bigger to fill, and not to be disrespectful or take anything away from guys in the bullpen, but holes are in the rotation are much more difficult to fill."
      
"Given the fact that (John Lackey), year one off surgery," said Buchholz, "everybody didn't really think he did what he was supposed to do the last couple years when he was pitching hurt, it shows you what kind of competitor he is. Along the same lines, all the guys we've called up have stepped into the spotlight and done really well.
      
"You can't say enough about everybody, how everything has gone."
      
There was a time, however, when Buchholz harbored doubts about being able to return and contribute in 2013.
      
"At a certain point, yeah," he acknowledged. "I didn't really think I'd be able to throw or let it go again. That's what I was feeling. That feeling's gone, and I feel good now. After that last bullpen (in Seattle in July), I was sort of at a point where this isn't getting any better and I need to figure out what it is.
      
In his final tuneup Thursday day, pitching for Pawtucket in the International League playoffs, Buchholz threw 3 2/3 innings and feels ready.
      
"I felt strong when they took me out, as good as when I started," he said. "Everything was good. I threw all my pitches. Curveball was probably the sharpest pitch I threw, and that's usually the last one I get feel for in spring training. Threw everything: Cutter, sinker, fastball. It all felt fine."
      
What remains to be seen is whether Buchholz can, with three weeks remaining, reach the level he was at before going down with his shoulder injury.
      
"Yeah, a lot of things have to go right for stuff like that to happen," cautioned Buchholz. "Definitely, that's what I want to do, that's what I want to get back to. At the same time, you have to have the right days of the guys scoring  runs and you not giving up any. It doesn't happen like that all the time.
      
"So, I'm going to try to get as close as I can to it. As of right now, I hopefully have four starts left in the season. That's for us to keep winning and get ready for the starts in October. That's when everything really matters. We've got to get there first.
      
"But I want to make sure I'm ready for that. That's the only goal I have in my head right now is to be ready.''

"Our goal going through the remainder of the month will be not only to stretch him out but to see if there's a certain dependability we'll get from him. We really can't expect that he'd come back and pitch to the form that led him to be a 1.7 ERA and the record that he has. But starting on Tuesday, if that's the day that he'll begin this, we're hopeful that we get a guy that's close to what he was prior to the injury and it would be an additional lift to this rotation."

If there's any consolation to the down time, it's this: Buchholz has pitched only a third of the season and could be fresh for the stretch run and October.
      
"Nobody looks at it that way," he said, "but my body should definitely feel a lot better than everybody else's in the league. I haven't thrown near as much. Things happen for a reason. I feel good, ready to go. It stinks that I haven't gotten to battle with the guys the last couple of months, but hopefully everything plays out the way we want it to and I can help these guys win."