BOSTON -- After two starts last year, Clay Buchholz had a record of 1-0 with a 9.82 ERA.
After two starts this year, he is 2-0 with an 0.64 ERA.
The difference between the two seasons was demonstrated starkly Monday. He battled through an almost pitch-for-pitch duel with Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen and the game was scoreless entering the seventh. His pitch count was at 90 when he started the seventh, and people were looking to the bullpen when he walked the leadoff hitter, Matt Weiters.
But John Farrell stuck with him. In fact, said Farrell, there was no thought given to removing him.
“That’s Clay's ballgame,” the manager said. “I felt like he earned that right to get through it. His stuff didn’t diminish. He showed the ability to make big pitches in key moments. It wasn’t like he was losing command or the fastball was becoming elevated. He stayed sharp throughout. More than anything, that was his inning to finish.”
And finish it he did, by striking out J.J. Hardy, retiring Ryan Flaherty on a grounder, and striking out Steve Pearce. His 113-pitch effort was rewarded when Daniel Nava cracked a three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh, giving Buchholz the victory in an eventual 3-1 Boston win.
Buchholz finished with eight strikeouts (five called, three swinging). Six came on fastballs, with one each on a curveball, and a changeup. He ended four of his seven innings with strikeouts, and caught O’s clean-up hitter Adam Jones looking at a curveball with Manny Machado on second base to end the second.
It was the mix of pitches that helped, he said.
“That little two-seamer to lefties,” Buchholz said. “They were running a lot of lefties up there, so with that short porch to left, [I] just didn’t want to live out over the plate because just about all of them can take you deep. I was able to throw a couple of good cutters just for purpose pitches and then throw that two-seamer in off the plate and then let it run back. Threw a couple of good two-seamers today in that fashion, but there wasn’t just one pitch that I had working the whole time.”
It may have been the added energy of pitching the home opener, but catcher David Ross saw Buchholz settle in as the game went on.
“I think he was definitely pumped up early on," said Ross. "Some of the hits he gave up, his ball was a little straighter than he wanted it . . . He just had so much adrenaline. But [he] pitched really well. I thought he used both sides of the plate really well and all of his off-speed really nice.”
But Buchholz, who said his outing “was sort of a grind there for a little bit”, allowed the first batter to reach base in five of his seven innings, including three of the first four, forcing him to work out of the stretch early and often. Which, he thinks, may have helped him.
“I actually felt better pitching out of the stretch today,” he said. “I felt like the tempo was better. Obviously, you don't want runners on base because that leads to multiple things. But being able to slow the game down in that way, taking some moving parts out of it, and being set over the rubber and throwing pitches . . . I don’t know what the reason was but I felt better out of the stretch, felt more under control. It makes it stressful to have runners on base all the time but had some pretty sold defensive plays behind me, too. So that’s where the pitching to contact comes in.”