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

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