Buchholz working to keep durability issues in past

Buchholz working to keep durability issues in past
February 24, 2014, 12:00 am
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Across the board, Clay Buchholz's 2013 season was spectacular. Even at a time when offense is down and pitchers' ERAs have shrunk, the 1.74 posted by Buchholz was jaw-dropping, along with the .923 winning percentage.
     
Additional numbers -- a 1.025 WHIP; a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.67:1 -- hinted at his dominance.
     
Just one thing was missing: durability.
     
A combination shoulder/neck injury kept Buchholz on the sideline from early July until early September, limiting him to 16 starts, exactly half a starting pitcher's optimal full-season workload.
     
It was the lone -- and yet familiar -- blight on Buchholz's season. Despite periodic brilliance, Buchholz has never been able to make 30 starts nor throw 200 innings -- the traditional workhorse benchmarks -- in a season.
     
"That's the name of the game for a starting pitcher," he acknowledged. "You can't be among the elite guys in the league unless you do that. It's a results-based industry. Everybody knows that."
     
In six seasons, Buchholz has only twice topped 150 innings in a season and has made more than 20 starts in a season twice.
     
His 2013 season may have been a return-to-form performance light years better than his desultory 2012 season, when he posted a bloated 4.56 ERA across a career-high 189 1/3 innings.
     
It's Buchholz's goal to prove more durable this year.
     
In recognition of the shoulder woes that plagued him for three months, coupled with the Sox' run deep into October, he began his throwing program later than usual, choosing to limit his winter workload.
     
"The workouts and conditioning was basically the same," he said. "I just took my regular time (after the end of a season) off, so it was probably about 2 1/2 weeks before camp before I started throwing. I usually come into camp in as close to mid-season form as I can and I think that's a change I made this year. It's more using spring training to get ready for the season rather than (coming in ready)."
     
Buchholz has also looked into changing his between-start routine, in an effort to preserve the energy necessary for a six-month long season, and, the Sox hope, another October of playoff baseball.
     
"Whatever fits the piece of the puzzle," he said. "I'm open to anything. Being older, the wear-and-tear of a season of a long season like last year and the previous, it takes a pounding on your body to be able to bounce back.
     
"I think that's the part where you have to be more mature about what you do in the off-season and how you to do it to put yourself in the best position."
     
There were times last season when it seemed as if Buchholz's struggles were as much mental as physical. After pitching for a while with an undiagnosed stress fracture in his lower back in 2011, Buchholz appeared spooked of doing further damage to his shoulder.
     
In October, he would regularly hit a wall after four or so innings and there were internal doubts about whether Buchholz was going to make his scheduled Game 4 start in the World Series.
     
Buchholz pitched just four innings that night, too, but he limited the Cardinals to a single run on three hits. More critically, he did so with diminished strength in his shoulder and a fastball that mostly hovered around 86- 87 mph.
     
Yet such was Buchholz's command and ability to execute secondary pitches, he was able to largely silence the St. Louis lineup.
     
It was a lesson learned.
     
"I think it's more command over velocity," said Buchholz. "It's hard to think that way when you're out there, trying to compete and get guys out. But that was the first time that I was actually not going out there trying to throw every pitch as hard as I could. I could have kept going, too (but was lifted for a pinch-hitter).
     
"Just knowing that you don't have to throw 94 mph, going forward (is good to know)."
     
Buchholz also knows he has something to prove to a fan base which has questioned his mettle. He feels the frustration others do when his seasons are interrupted by physical setbacks.
     
"It's been a grind," he said, "especially in this organization, this industry, New England in general, it's tough when things are going rough for you, and it's really good when they're going good.
     
"I would definitely rather it be the good stuff than the bad stuff, but sometimes stuff happens and you've got to persevere through it and make yourself better from the negative stuff that goes on."