Buchholz stepping up to ace territory

787526.jpg

Buchholz stepping up to ace territory

BOSTON -- Righthander Clay Buchholz was able to accomplish something Monday night a Red Sox starting pitcher had been unable to do in nearly two weeks. Earn a win.

Buchholz went eight innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits, including a home run. He walked two, struck out four and improved to 9-3 while lowering his ERA to 4.75, as the Sox beat the Tigers 7-3 at Fenway Park.

The last Sox starting pitcher to earn a W was Felix Doubront on July 18 against the White Sox.

Since posting wins in four consecutive starts from June 1-19, Buchholz had gone 0-1 with a 2.53 ERA in his past three starts. The Sox, though, were 2-1 in those three games.
It quickly appeared Buchholz was headed for a similar fate in this game. He gave up a leadoff home run to Austin Jackson on his second pitch of the game.

It was the fourth time Buchholz has allowed a leadoff home run, and first since April 20, 2011, in Oakland when Coco Crisp opened with a homer. It snapped a string of 26 13 innings for Buchholz without allowing a home run, since the second inning on June 19.

Still, after allowing the next batter, Quintin Berry, to reach on a double off the wall, Buchholz retired the next three to end the inning with no further damage.

He got out of another jam with minimal damage in the third. After Omar Infante led off with a triple, Jackson walked. With one out, Miguel Cabreras single to center scored Infante. A walk to Prince Fielder loaded the bases. But Buchholz got Delmon Young to ground into a double play, ending the inning.

Buchholz third (and unearned) run allowed came in the seventh when Brennan Boesch struck out but reached on catcher Kelly Shoppachs throwing error. With one out, Alex Avilas double to right scored Boesch.

Boesch and Avila were the only Detroit baserunners to reach after the third.

I thought he was spectacular, said manager Bobby Valentine. Leaving the runner on base in the first inning and getting the ground ball double play with the bases loaded, it was cruising from that point on. He got his ball down, threw great off-speed stuff, really good changeup, curveball, cutter and gave us eight great innings.

Buchholzs outing was not what he experienced in his bullpen warm-up.

In the bullpen I was up in the zone, he said. Im not saying that you take your bullpen into the game but the release point was a little off and balls were up. With a team like this when you leave balls middle of the plate, you get hit pretty hard. So that was that and then I was able to miss the barrel. They're a team that everyone knows they're aggressive. Theyre a fastball hitting team and they had a couple of guys in there that can hit strike off-speed stuff too pretty well. So, its a more mix-and-match game and I was able to miss the fat part of the bat for the most part.

Limiting the damage in the first inning something Sox pitchers have had difficulty with this season was a key.

The next guy hits a double and more times than not the runner scores from second, too, Buchholz said. So I was just trying to find a way to keep him at second base or third base and not let him get across the plate. It was a pitch-by-pitch deal where me and Shop had a pretty good flow going, too. And there wasnt a whole lot of shaking off tonight so I think that had a lot to do with it.

Buchholz has become the Sox most reliable starter. In his last nine starts since May 27, he is 5-1 with a 2.44 ERA, giving up 18 earned runs in 66 13 innings. In his last eight starts since June 1, the Sox are 7-1. He has allowed just four earned runs over his last three starts since July 19, spanning 23 innings, for a 1.57 ERA.

I feel good, he said. Its just I have a little bit of confidence and going out and throwing well just builds confidence and adds to what you already had so it definitely feels good. I feel like theres always something you could work on to change and get better at and I think thats going to be every start. Theres going to be something that you could do better but everything feels in sync right now. Thats the working part of it. Youve got to find a way four days in between to keep yourself where youre at and not lose anything.

Where hes at now is different than where he was early in the season, perhaps still dealing with the effect of the stress fracture in his lower back that ended last season for him after just 14 starts. After his first eight starts this season, Buchholz was 4-2 with a 7.77 ERA, with the Sox were 4-4 in those games.

Yeah, the stuffs the same. I feel like the stuff Im throwing is the same, he said. For the most part Im off middle of the plate a little more and ground balls that are getting hit right at guys just werent hit at them early in the year. They were just out of their reach and two runs would score on a ground ball like that. So a little bit of luck involved and the confidence part of it, being able to throw a pitch with conviction rather than second-guessing it.

And getting wins.

McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

screen_shot_2016-05-05_at_1.11.14_pm.png

McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

CHICAGO -- It could happen Thursday night, or perhaps sometime this weekend in New York, where he always hits well.
      
But sometime soon, David Ortiz is going to tie, then surpass, Carl Yastrzesmski as the second-greatest home run hitter in Red Sox history.
      
Ortiz hit his sixth of the season Wednesday night, giving him 451 for his Red Sox career, one behind Yastrzemski. Ted Williams is, of course, the Red Sox' all-time leader with 521, safely out of reach.
      
"Know what happens when that's happening?'' asked Ortiz, when told of the approaching milestone. "I'm getting old, man. Like I always say, whenever they mention your name right next to the legends, it's something that, humbly I can tell you, is an honor.''
      
What makes Ortiz's spot on the list all the more amazing is that he has reached these heights after being discarded by the Minnesota Twins some 14 years ago.
      
He arrived as a backup first baseman, initially stuck behind Jeremy Giambi on the Red Sox depth chart. He'll retire, later this year, as one of the handful of best hitters the franchise has ever known.
      
On nights like Wednesday, the context seemed to have Ortiz himself in awe.
      
"I was just a guy who was trying to have a good career,'' said Ortiz, “and put (my) family in a better situation. Now, all of a sudden, these things are happening. It's a blessing.''
      
It's a stretch to suggest that these things are happening "all of a sudden.'' To the contrary, they're the result of a remarkable stretch of 14 seasons in Boston.
     
Only now are the numbers coming into focus. And what numbers they are.
      
Beyond Ortiz's ascension on the all-time lists for the both Major League Baseball and the Red Sox in particular are the improbable feats of a 40-year-old who is performing this season at a level that would be impressive for a hitter a decade younger.
      
Consider:
      
* When Ortiz homered off Yankees reliever Dellin Betances last Friday, he did so on a first-pitch curveball. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated noted that Betances had thrown 355 first-pitch curveballs in his career; Ortiz was the first to hit a homer on one of those pitches.
      
In fact, only six of the first 355 had even been put in play.
      
Ortiz hit his well into the Monster Seats to snap a 2-2 tie and send the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory.
      
* On Wednesday night, Ortiz became the first lefthanded hitter to ever homer off White Sox lefty starter Carlos Rodon.
      
Since last July 2, Ortiz is third among all lefthanded hitters in hitting homers off lefthanded pitchers. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who was being benched as recently as last June against some lefty starters.
     
And what did Rodon learn about that particular showdown?
      
"Don't throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,'' said Rodon.
      
Sounds like a good strategy.
      
It's fairly amazing that a 40-year-old, in his final season, is enjoying all these firsts. But Ortiz has lasted this long, and played at such a high level, precisely because he works to get better all the time.
      
Manager John Farrell noted that Ortiz hadn't faced Rodon before Wednesday night and didn't look particularly good in his first two at-bats, grounding into a double play and hitting a flyout.
      
But Ortiz is forever making mental notes, getting ready to make adjustments and process what he's seen.
      
"His retention is great,'' marveled Farrell. "He understands what he's seeing after just one at-bat.''
      
There's still more than five months to go in the regular season and a lot can happen in that span. But after a month in 2016, it seems likely that we are in the midst of one of the greatest final seasons a player has ever enjoyed.