Buchholz still working out the kinks on the mound

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Buchholz still working out the kinks on the mound

MINNEAPOLIS -- Clay Buchholz, who has a 9.00 ERA after three starts, has been working on fine-tuning things on the side, hopeful that he can do a better job at keeping the ball down in the strike zone than he has in his first few outings.

"It's a work in progress," said Buchholz. "It's all release-point related. Once you find the release point, I think the changeup will come into effect. That's been up, too. When my four-seamer and two-seamer is down, usually my changeup's down because it's basically the same pitch with a little different grip.

"Once I get to that point and throw some good pitches and get out of the couple of innings without giving up any runs, I think it will (come around)."

Indeed, Buchholz has struggled in the early going of all three starts this season. He gave up four runs in the first and another in the second in his first outing, April 8 in Detroit.

In his next start, against Tampa Bay on April 14, he was again tagged for four runs in the first and another run in the third. Finally, last Friday against the Yankees, he was nicked for a run in the first and two more in the third.

Buchholz had a side session with pitching coach Bob McClure Monday and was satisfied with the progress made.

A particular focus was working on his changeup, which he's had difficulty finding a feel for.

"My changeup's always been a pitch that I've been able to throw 2-and-0, 3-and-0, 3-and-1," said Buchholz. "I don't have that confidence in it right now to go out and throw it like I have in the past. That's what I've been working on the last few weeks."

"I thought he had a great bullpen yesterday," said manager Bobby Valentine. "In his last game, obviously he centered a lot of balls but he also threw a lot of quality pitches. We've got to get that consistent quality, down in the zone. When he's down, he's pretty effective. Very effective."

Buchholz, of course, missed the final 3 12 months of last season with a lower back stress fracture and he acknowledged Tuesday that he's still trying to overcome the "rust factor."

"Yeah, I think there's some rust, even when you don't think there's going to be," he said. "There's always the hesitation going into a game, not really knowing what to expect -- not physically, but mentally -- where you're not part of something for a while.

"There's a couple of guys in the game right now coming off injuries who are off to a little rougher start than they expected. It all goes hand-in-hand. You know you're going to have some ups and downs and you've got to figure out a way to get through it."

Merloni: ‘Missed opportunities left and right’ for Red Sox

Merloni: ‘Missed opportunities left and right’ for Red Sox

Lou Merloni talks about the Red Sox losing 6 out of the last 7 games and if David Price should have stayed in the game for the 9th inning.

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

There are still two full months of games left on the schedule and who knows what might happen in that time, or what else might befall the Red Sox.

But for now, it's no stretch to suggest that Thursday's excruciating 2-1 setback in Anaheim constitutes the worst loss of the season to date. The point hardly seems debatable.

Consider:

THE TIMING: This was the start of the longest, and in many ways, most challenging road trip of the season, with 11 games in 11 days. It comes immediately after a homestand that was highly disappointing, featuring a mere split with the last-place Minnesota Twins and a sweep at the hands of the otherwise mediocre Detroit Tigers.

There's been a great deal of attention focused on how many road games the Sox have to play through the rest of the season. Winning the opener -- and snapping a three-game losing streak in the process - would have felt like a strong statement that the club was ready and able to meet the challenges of the schedule.

THE STARTING PITCHER: The loss wiped out a standout performance by David Price, who may well hold the key to whether the Red Sox grab a playoff spot this fall.

Price has been woefully inconsistent in his first season with the Red Sox, alternating between brief stretches of dominance and periods of underwhelming outings.

For a change Thursday night, Price seemed on the verge of winning one of those "statement'' games, when he would make one measly run in the third inning stand up. There have been too many times, given his standing as the team's No. 1 starter, in which Price has pitched just well enough to lose -- like the pitcher's duels in which he came up short against the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Chris Tillman.

But on Thursday, Price didn't buckle. And never mind that he was matched against an aging and depleted Jered Weaver. Price had next-to-nothing with which to work, but he protected the 1-0 lead with a determination he has seldon shown in Boston.

And for his effort to go wasted sets an inauspicious marker for this demanding trip. There was something symbolic about having Price set the tone at the start with a low-scoring, must-have game.

He did his part. Unfortunately for Price, that wasn't enough.

THE WAY IN WHICH IT HAPPENED: Walk-off losses are never pleasant, whether they come on a homer, or a base hit up the middle.

But considering that the Red Sox had the ability to turn Daniel Nava's tapper to first into a game-ending double play, and instead, saw it result in a two-run throwing error on the part of Hanley Ramirez, makes it all the more crushing.

Brad Ziegler, who gave up a go-ahead game-winning homer in the final game of the homestand Wednesday, essentially did his job in the ninth. He got Mike Trout to hit a chopper, which resulted in an infield single. And he kept the ball on the ground and in the infield, with the Sox bringing the infield in with the bases loaded and one out.

Better execution, and the Red Sox walk away with a thrilling 1-0 victory to begin their West Coast trek. Instead, they walk off the field, heads down, with the wrong precedent being set.