First pitch: Buchholz is Red Sox' king of the hill

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First pitch: Buchholz is Red Sox' king of the hill

MIAMI -- It may not have been how the Red Sox planned it, but two-and-a-half months into the season, Clay Buchholz is the team's best starting pitcher.

Such a notion would have been laughable only a few weeks ago, when Buchholz owned an ERA north of 8.00. But over the last four turns through the rotation, Buchholz has made the convincing case.

Tuesday night, with little backing and even less margin for error, Buchholz performed brilliantly, limiting the Miami Marlins to a single run over seven innings.

And while Buchholz may have had to pitch out of trouble late in the game, the key may well have come in the first inning.

For the second night in a row, Miami shortstop Jose Reyes began the game with a triple to right field and stood on third base, representing an almost inevitable 1-0 lead for the Marlins.

But Buchholz conceded nothing. He proceeded to strike out the next three hitters -- Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton -- each of one of them swinging at a third strike.

It was an impressive display of might by Buchholz, who would go on to rack up nine strikeouts, a 2012 high.

It also seemed a declaration of sorts. Knowing how little the Sox offense had provided of late -- it had averaged a paltry 3.1 runs per game over the previous eight games, seven of them losses -- Buchholz would not permit the opposition to take so much as a one-run, first-inning lead.

"I thought it was real big,'' said Bobby Valentine afterward. "It was a confidence builder for Buchholz and it probably took a little bit out of them. It's not like our offense came alive, but at least we knew we had a chance.''

"It was big,'' said Buchholz of his escape. "It was a pretty tough situation.''

Buchholz barely resembles the same pitcher of his first seven or eight starts this season. In April and through the first few weeks of May, Buchholz appeared tentative on the mound, perhaps not entirely convinced that the stress fracture in his lower back, which had robbed him of the final half of last season, had not fully healed.

"The first few weeks were pretty tough,'' he acknowledged Tuesday night. "I was down. I think anybody would be down. No one wants to give up runs and put their team in a losing situation. I had to find a way to get past that, and battle through it. I knew that I had done it before, so it wasn't going to not happen for me; it was just going to take a little bit of time coming off the injury.''

The turnaround has been fueled by an adjustment and a discovery. Buchholz changed the grip on his changeup a handful of starts back and it has gradually returned to being the weapon it was when he emerged in 2010 as one of the game's most promising starters.

But before the changeup returned, Buchholz stumbled upon another option with the help of teammate Josh Beckett, who suggested Buchholz experiment with a split-finger fastball.

"It's a pitch that I can, when my real changeup isn't there, puts another pitch in the hitter's mind,'' said Buchholz. "It's been a good pitch when I've thrown it. It's still new, I'm still working on it. But it's been a big pitch a few times for me.''

Mostly, Buchholz has been big for the Red Sox for the past month. While Jon Lester shows a continuing tendency to give back leads and Beckett can't seem to pitch well enough to win close games -- four wins in a dozen starts -- Buchholz, reagrdless of where he sits within the rotation, is the team's true No. 1.

After ‘tough month,’ Farrell understands speculation on his job status

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After ‘tough month,’ Farrell understands speculation on his job status

BOSTON - With the Red Sox reeling coming off a month in which they went 10-16 and dropped a handful of games in the standings, speculation has recently focused on John Farrell's job security.

Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox' president of baseball operations, told reporters Thursday that Farrell's job status was not a focus and that the entire organization had to perform better. Dombrowski added that it's seldom that one person is responsible for a downturn in play.

"We've come off a tough month and finished a disappointing trip through Texas and Tampa,'' acknowledged Farrell when asked about the chatter regarding his job status. "I can understand the question and the potential speculation that's out there. But our expectation is to win and that doesn't change. The focus daily is that, is to go out and put together an effort to win.      

"My communication with Dave is very consistent. I think he's confident in my focus  and that's to win each and every day. That's where we stand. We're looking forward to  the opportunity to start this final homestand before the [All Star] break, so that gets underway tonight.''

Farrell was also asked about the dichotmy that existed between his own evaluation of David Price's outing Wednesday and Price's own estimation. 

Farrell said post-game that he believed Price "probably had his best stuff of the season, in terms of velocity and in terms of the shape of his secondary pitches.''

Price, who was in full self-flagellation mode, offered a slightly contradictory assessment.

"Changeup, that's probably the worst changeup I've had in a month,'' he said. "Curveball was awful. Can't get my cutter or my slider where I want to. I'm just bad right now.''

Farrell was questioned Friday about the seemingly contradictory analysis.

"The commentary was, here was a guy coming off an outing where he had best velocity he's shown all year -- up to 97 mph,'' said Farrell, "strikes out 10 over six-plus innings. He made some mistakes in the middle of the middle of the plate. But in terms of just raw stuff, I thought he showed a curveball that had much more consistent depth to it than in more recent starts.

So in terms of raw stuff, I thought it was one of his better outings of the year. The execution?

No, that wasn't as good as the game against San Francisco or the game against Seattle.

"Whether that's a differing opinion from someone else? That was just my view of the raw stuff.''

Sean McAdam can be followed on Twitter: @Sean_McAdam

O’Sullivan will return to make start for Red Sox on Sunday

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O’Sullivan will return to make start for Red Sox on Sunday

BOSTON - Sean O'Sullivan -- and not Aaron Wilkerson -- is the Red Sox choice for Sunday's plug-in starter as the Sox search for a temporary replacement for Eduardo Rodriguez's spot in their starting rotation.
      
"That was the recommendation,'' said John Farrell of the choice to go with  O'Sullivan. "Granted, Wilkerson's been throwing the ball well there. But the recommendation was for Sean to come back here and pitch on Sunday.''
      
O'Sullivan made two starts earlier this season, allowing four runs in six innings to the New York Yankees on May 10 before being battered for six runs (five earned) in 4 1/3 innings against Houston five days later.
      
Overall, O'Sullivan is 6-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts for the Pawsox this season.
      
Wilkerson, who was pitching in independent ball just two years ago, is 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in eight appearances -- seven starts -- at Pawtucket.
      
O'Sullivan's stay with the Red Sox is expcted to be brief, since the Red Sox can through next week and first 10 days of the second half without a fifth starter.
      
"It's likely that spot will come up just once,'' confirmed Farrell. "With next Thursday's off-day, we've got a chance to make sure that [Rick] Porcello and [David] Price get on the mound before the break and that's the direction we're leaining in right now.''

Holt 'definitely happy' to be back with Red Sox

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Holt 'definitely happy' to be back with Red Sox

BOSTON -- After an absence of more than a month, Brock Holt was back in the Red Sox lineup Friday night, playing left field and batting sixth. Holt had been sidelined with a concussion he suffered in early May in a game against Oakland.

"It's good to see Brock back in the lineup,'' said John Farrell. "It will certainly allow for not only a left-handed bat in left field but also the ability to somewhat deepen our bench.''

"I feel good,' said Holt. "I've been working to get back here. Obviously, it took a lot longer than I had hoped, but I'm definitely happy to be back.''

This was the second concussion suffered by Holt, who also incurred one in September 2014. Holt was originally placed on the seven-day concussion DL on May 20 before later being transferred to the 15-day DL.

While on a rehab assignment in Pawtucket, Holt was still experiencing some slight post-concussion symptoms, but he and the club believe he's ready to return.

"There's still a little bit more to improve on,'' said Holt. "But I'm definitely feeling a lot better. In my rehab games down there, I was able to put together good at-bats and hit some balls hard, so that definitely gave me some confidence to take the next step.''

Holt said he occasionally feels "a little light-headedness. Sometimes it comes and goes; sometimes I don't feel it all. It's definitely a lot better than where it was and I feel confident in taking the next step and to come up here and contribute.''

Holt has been told the remaining symptoms will eventually dissipate.

"Then I'll be normal,'' he said. "It's just part of the process. Getting into rehab games was a big step. Now, getting back here is the next step. As long as I just keep doing what I'm doing, it should be normal.''

It's uncertain how regularly Holt can play, but the Red Sox will ease him back into an everyday routine.

"He'll be checked on daily,'' said Farrell, "The progression that he's come through, we know there's going to be diminshing symptoms as we go along. The plan right now is for him to play tonight and Sunday against two right-handers. Beyond that, we'll continue to monitor his availability and check on him every day.''