Clay Buchholz: Ace by default

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Clay Buchholz: Ace by default

These days, its easy to forget just how bad Clay Buchholz was at the beginning of this season.

Actually, no its not.

Imagine Byung-Hyun Kims poise with John Wasdins overpowering fastball.

Through six starts, Buchholz had given up 33 earned runs over 32.2 innings a Lackey-esque 9.09 ERA. He had 19 walks, and only 20 strike outs. The most ridiculous number? In those first six starts, Buchholz served up 10 home runs. This, after giving up 10 total in 14 starts last year, and only nine in 28 starts in 2010.

He was also 3-1, but that was a joke. Just goes to show how meaningless W-L record is, we said after every start.

What was wrong?

We never really got an answer. But in retrospect, its clear that Clay was just a little rusty. He hadnt started a game since June 16, and you can imagine how back surgery might mess with a pitchers head. Im sure it takes some time to re-discover that Major League mentality.

Or maybe Buchholz is just a slow starter in general?

After all, on the heels of his stellar 2010 when he went 17-7 with a 2.30 ERA and seemed to finally turn the corner on his path to stardom Clay was 1-3 with a 5.33 ERA in five April starts last year. He was awful.

But over his next nine outings, he went 5-0 (the Sox went 8-1) with 2.67 ERA. He gave up more than two runs in a start only twice. He was dominant . . . before back issues and the Sox bogus medical staff derailed his season. We tend to think of 2011 as a disappointing year for Buchholz, but thats only because he was injured. When he pitched, he was great.

And now hes back. After giving up 33 earned runs over those first six starts, Buchholz has allowed only 29 in 12 starts since. After giving up 10 home runs in his first six starts, hes surrendered only six in 12 starts since. Buchholz is 6-2 since May 6, and as we know, that can be deceiving. But whats not deceiving is his 3.15 ERA, his 2.59 KBB ratio and his 1.11 WHIP.

Right now, there's no debate: Buchholz is the best and most reliable pitcher on this Red Sox staff. If the season was riding on one game, hes the guy youd want with the ball.

He's the ace.

And that's too bad, because you know what? He'd make an even better No. 3. And that's what this is supposed to be. Lester, Beckett and Buchholz.

In the words of Tommy Heinsohn: "Bing, Bang, Boom!"

These days, it's just boom. And as great as it is to see Buchholz back pitching at this level, you can't help but fear that it's all going to waste. While it's uplifting that there's finally a guy on the staff who you'd feel comfortable calling on in an important game, you know that without Beckett and Lester, there will be no important games. The Sox will never get closer than they are today, and Clay's resurgence will be lost in another off-season of silly drama.

Tonight at Fenway, one half of the ambiguously talented duo will attempt to finally start living up to his end of the bargain: Josh Beckett vs. Justin Verlander.

Now there's an ace.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

BOSTON -- At first, 2016 seemed like the “Year of Xander.” It turned out to be the “Year of Mookie,” with Bogaerts dropping off a little as the season progressed.

The Red Sox shortstop saw his average peak at .359 on June 12. At that point he’d played in 61 games, hit eight home runs, 20 doubles and knocked in 44 runs. Although Mookie Betts had six more home runs and three more RBI in that same span, Bogaerts had six more doubles and was hitting 69 points higher.

The two were already locks for the All-Star Game and Bogaerts still had the edge in early MVP talk.

Then things took a turn after the very day Bogaerts saw his average peak.

Over the next 61 games, Bogaerts still managed seven homers, but only had six doubles and 27 RBI, watching his average drop to .307 by the end of that stretch. At first glance, .307 doesn’t seem like an issue, but he dropped 52 points after hitting .253 in that span.

And in his remaining 35 games, Bogaerts only hit .248 -- although he did have six homers.

But throughout it all, Bogaerts never seemed fazed by it. With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month, Bogaerts still isn’t worried about the peaks and valleys.

“You go through it as a player, the only one’s who don’t go through that are the ones not playing,” Bogaerts told CSNNE.com before the Boston baseball writers' dinner Thursday. “I just gotta know you’re going to be playing good for sometime, you’re going to be playing bad for sometime.

“Just try to a lot more better times than bad times. It’s just a matter of trusting yourself, trusting your abilities and never doubting yourself. Obviously, you get a lot of doubts when you’re playing bad, but you just be even keeled with whatever situation is presented.”

Bogaerts level head is something often noted by coaches and his teammates, carrying through the days he finds himself lunging left and right for pitches. That’s also carried him through the offseason while maintaining the same preparation from past seasons -- along with putting on some weight.

“I don’t know how much I put on, but I feel strong,” Bogaerts said to CSNNE.com “I mean, I look strong in the mirror.

“Hopefully, I’m in a good position when the season comes because I know I’ll lose [the weight].”