BOSTON -- Nine starts into his season, it's as if a flip was switched for Clay Buchholz. In reality, he finally has a grip on things. After a no-decision in Baltimore on May 21, his ERA was a bloated 7.84, he had walked as many hitters as he had struck out and he was averaging more than a homer allowed per start. There was talk that he might be sent back to the minor leagues. At the very least, his spot in the Red Sox starting rotation seemed in jeopardy. Ever since then, however, Buchholz has looked much more like the pitcher who showed such great promise in 2010. Buchholz tossed a complete game shutout Thursday night against the Orioles, and over his last three starts, he's compiled a 1.50 ERA. He's averaged eight innings in those starts and has 19 strikeouts in his last three starts. Buchholz attributes the turnaround to a different grip on his changeup, which can be his best pitch. "The changeup is a big pitch for me,'' said Buchholz after the Red Sox blanked the Orioles, 7-0. "I'm able to throw that to get back into the count or get ahead in the count. The only adjustment was the grip. I think my grip was a little off. I've been able to free that up a little bit. It's just been a pitch that we've tried to work on for a long time and I noticed it wasn't the same grip that I had in past years. "Now it's coming back.'' So, too, is Buchholz. Through the first nine starts of the season, he had pitched through the seventh just once; in his last three outings, he's made it through seven each time. And thanks in part to the changeup, his strikeout totals are up. In his first nine starts, Buchholz never fanned more than five. In his last three starts, meanwhile, he's fanned at least six. Thursday's effort was his best yet. He threw 125 pitches, a season high, but was in command until the end. "It was spectacular,'' said an appreciative Bobby Valentine of his starter's outing. "He had all of his pitches from the get-go. I thought his changeup and his arm speed on his changeup was spectacular. He threw some splits and his curveball was very active. "When you have control of the fastball and you're throwing in 93-94 mph, the changeup, split and curveball, you've got a good chance of winning.'' Valentine noted that the movement on Buchholz's pitches has induced hitters to swing early in the count, giving the pitcher a big advantage. "They don't want to get behind with that curveball that he has,'' said Valentine. "When you're talented and your stuff's working for you, it's easy to be confident because it's tough to hit that stuff.'' A few weeks back, there wasn't much success and even less confidence. But thanks to some work and adjustments, Buchholz has that swagger back on the mound. "This game's not easy,'' said Buchholz. "There's a lot of guys really good at this game who struggle. And there's a lot of guys who are really, really good who don't struggle. It's been a few slight adjustments and trying to focus on the next pitch instead of what just happened to the last hitter.''
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Notes, quotes and stars from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Rays:
* "There's not much I can do about it now. It's kind of a waiting game and hopefully, the tests come back clean.'' -Andrew Benintendi, on the uncertainty surrounding his knee injury.
* "Sometimes, I like that, sometimes I don't because I'd kind of take a couple of quick outs in place of those to get a couple of more innings out there.'' -Drew Pomeranz on his career high 11 strikeouts.
* "That's probably the spot that looms the largest. Jackie's become more aggressive early in the count, but at the same time, that aggressiveness can work against you.'' -Farrell on Jackie Bradley Jr. swinging at the first pitch following a walk with the bases loaded.
* Drew Pomeranz recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts
* Since moving to the leadoff spot, Dustin Pedroia has a slash line of .397/.418/.460 in 16 games.
* Pomeranz has yielded two runs or fewer in five consecutive starts.
* On the just-completed road trip, the Red Sox led in all but one game.
* Thursday's loss was the fourth this season in which the Sox allowed two runs or fewer.
* The past 18 Red Sox losses have come by a combined 37 runs.
* Until Thursday, the Red Sox had won 20 of their past 31 day games.
* The bottom third of the makeshift Red Sox lineup combined to go 2-for-12.
* The Sox missed out on a chance to have an eight-win road trip, which would have been their first since 2011.
1) Jake Odorizzi
The Rays started, facing a depleted Red Sox lineup, limited the Sox to a single run over seven innings, allowing just five hits and getting out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam by allowing just one run.
2) Mikie Mahtook
Mahtook was 0-for-34 when facing Drew Pomeranz in the seventh inning, but that didn't stop him from doubling home Steven Souza Jr with what proved to be the winning run.
3) Dustin Pedroia
The Sox couldn't generate much of anything at all offensively, but don't blame Pedroia. The leadoff hitter had three hits and a walk and was on base four times for the Sox.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Andrew Benintendi saga will continue for at least one more day, as an MRI taken here Thursday morning was, in the words of John Farrell, "inconclusive" and the rookie left fielder will undergo more tests Friday in Boston.
"Our doctors want to get him back to a full exam with (team orthopedist) Dr. [Peter] Asnis," Farrell said after the 2-1 loss to the Rays, which concluded the team's 11-game road trip. "Hopefully, when I speak to you all [Friday] afternoon (at Fenway Park, prior to the team's game against Royals), there will be a little more information on this."
Farrell said Friday's tests "will include some other imaging".
The Sox placed Benintendi on the 15-day disabled list after he injured his left night while running the bases Wednesday night.
"We're going to do some more tests tomorrow and take it day-by-day," he said. "There's not much I can do about it now. It's kind of a waiting game and hopefully the tests come back clean.''
Benintendi found one sliver of hope:
"The more I walk on it, the better it feels. I'm going to stay as positive as I can.''
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- First Impressions from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field:
* When the guy who was 0-for-34 produces the go-ahead RBI, it's probably not your day.
The Red Sox and Rays were tied 1-1 in the seventh when Steven Souza Jr. singled to lead off the inning. That brought Mikie Mahtook, hitless in his last 34 at-bats to the plate.
Naturally, Mahtook roped a line-drive double to left field, scoring Souza all the way from first base. It was that kind of day for the Red Sox, who were 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position and stranded five baserunners.
For a team that still leads the majors in runs scored, the Red Sox have shown an uncanny ability to go cold at the plate.
On Thursday afternoon, that happened again, while the most unlikely hero for Tampa Bay came through in an improbable spot.
* The Red Sox' struggles with the bases loaded is almost comical.
It happened again.
In the sixth inning, the Red Sox loaded the bases with no out. Mookie Betts then hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring one run. Hanley Ramirez then walked, re-loading the bases, this time with one out.
But Jackie Bradley Jr. then swung at the first pitch and hit into an inning-ending, rally-killing 4-6-3 double play.
In two plate appearances with the bases loaded, the Sox failed to get a hit.
The Sox are hitting .216 with the bases loaded (24-for-111), ranking them 14th in the American League. Only Seattle and Detroit have had more bases-loaded opportunities, and yet the Red Sox rank in the second half in runs scored in such situations.
* Drew Pomeranz is showing no signs of innings fatigue
True, Pomeranz failed to provide a shutdown inning in the sixth after the Red Sox had gotten him a run in the top of the inning.
Still, Pomeranz pitched into the seventh and allowed just two runs while striking out a season-high 11 batters.
In his past five starts, he's compiled a 2.37 ERA, and both the power to his fastball and the sharpness to his curve offer no evidence that he's hit any sort of wall despite already establishing a career high at the major league level with five weeks remaining in the season.