By Dan Duggan
Special to CSNNE.com
NEW YORK — Clay Buchholz enters Wednesday’s start against the Yankees healthy and confident. The challenge will be to stay that way.
Buchholz, who missed a month last season because of esophagitis, has never reached 30 starts or 200 innings in five full seasons with the Red Sox. He went 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA in 29 starts last season.
But Buchholz was sharp in six spring training starts, allowing just two runs 22m 2/3 innings (0.79 ERA). That has him feeling much better than a year ago, when he was still rounding into shape after a stress fracture in his back that ended his 2011 season in June.
“Definitely a little bit more than the last couple of springs, where it's been a little bit up and down,” Buchholz said of his confidence level. “Knowing that the stuff that I worked on, the preparation came through during the spring, it's the same way here. There's just going to be a lot more people watching.”
First-year manager John Farrell has observed Buchholz’s development since his days as the Sox pitching coach from 2007-10. Farrell noted improvement in Buchholz’s mound presence and body language, but the most important aspect has been health.
“The one thing that was evident early on, he came in without any physical issues to hold him back,” Farrell said. “I thought he was better overall with particularly his fastball location, bottom of the strike zone, and if that holds true to form going forward, he should be a very good and certainly a very strong starting pitcher for us. What that means in innings, wins, losses -- time will tell. But he’s in a good place right now to start the season.”
Buchholz believes the team as a whole is in a better place. After consecutive slow starts, he is confident the Sox will hit the ground running this season.
“It's a 180-degree turn, I think,” Buchholz said. “Everybody is loose, relaxed. There's been no tension. It's been an awesome clubhouse all spring . . . It's been fun every day going to the field. There wasn't a day that went by where I was like, 'Man, I can't wait to get out of this place.' If you can say that about being down there that long, something good is going on.”
Buchholz got off to a rocky start last year, posting a 9.09 ERA in his first six starts. With that in mind, he has modest goals for the start of this season.
“Hopefully not losing my first seven starts,” Buchholz said. “Other than that, go out, try to have fun with it, let the game come to you.”