Boston Red Sox

Buchholz stepping up to ace territory

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Buchholz stepping up to ace territory

BOSTON -- Righthander Clay Buchholz was able to accomplish something Monday night a Red Sox starting pitcher had been unable to do in nearly two weeks. Earn a win.

Buchholz went eight innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits, including a home run. He walked two, struck out four and improved to 9-3 while lowering his ERA to 4.75, as the Sox beat the Tigers 7-3 at Fenway Park.

The last Sox starting pitcher to earn a W was Felix Doubront on July 18 against the White Sox.

Since posting wins in four consecutive starts from June 1-19, Buchholz had gone 0-1 with a 2.53 ERA in his past three starts. The Sox, though, were 2-1 in those three games.
It quickly appeared Buchholz was headed for a similar fate in this game. He gave up a leadoff home run to Austin Jackson on his second pitch of the game.

It was the fourth time Buchholz has allowed a leadoff home run, and first since April 20, 2011, in Oakland when Coco Crisp opened with a homer. It snapped a string of 26 13 innings for Buchholz without allowing a home run, since the second inning on June 19.

Still, after allowing the next batter, Quintin Berry, to reach on a double off the wall, Buchholz retired the next three to end the inning with no further damage.

He got out of another jam with minimal damage in the third. After Omar Infante led off with a triple, Jackson walked. With one out, Miguel Cabreras single to center scored Infante. A walk to Prince Fielder loaded the bases. But Buchholz got Delmon Young to ground into a double play, ending the inning.

Buchholz third (and unearned) run allowed came in the seventh when Brennan Boesch struck out but reached on catcher Kelly Shoppachs throwing error. With one out, Alex Avilas double to right scored Boesch.

Boesch and Avila were the only Detroit baserunners to reach after the third.

I thought he was spectacular, said manager Bobby Valentine. Leaving the runner on base in the first inning and getting the ground ball double play with the bases loaded, it was cruising from that point on. He got his ball down, threw great off-speed stuff, really good changeup, curveball, cutter and gave us eight great innings.

Buchholzs outing was not what he experienced in his bullpen warm-up.

In the bullpen I was up in the zone, he said. Im not saying that you take your bullpen into the game but the release point was a little off and balls were up. With a team like this when you leave balls middle of the plate, you get hit pretty hard. So that was that and then I was able to miss the barrel. They're a team that everyone knows they're aggressive. Theyre a fastball hitting team and they had a couple of guys in there that can hit strike off-speed stuff too pretty well. So, its a more mix-and-match game and I was able to miss the fat part of the bat for the most part.

Limiting the damage in the first inning something Sox pitchers have had difficulty with this season was a key.

The next guy hits a double and more times than not the runner scores from second, too, Buchholz said. So I was just trying to find a way to keep him at second base or third base and not let him get across the plate. It was a pitch-by-pitch deal where me and Shop had a pretty good flow going, too. And there wasnt a whole lot of shaking off tonight so I think that had a lot to do with it.

Buchholz has become the Sox most reliable starter. In his last nine starts since May 27, he is 5-1 with a 2.44 ERA, giving up 18 earned runs in 66 13 innings. In his last eight starts since June 1, the Sox are 7-1. He has allowed just four earned runs over his last three starts since July 19, spanning 23 innings, for a 1.57 ERA.

I feel good, he said. Its just I have a little bit of confidence and going out and throwing well just builds confidence and adds to what you already had so it definitely feels good. I feel like theres always something you could work on to change and get better at and I think thats going to be every start. Theres going to be something that you could do better but everything feels in sync right now. Thats the working part of it. Youve got to find a way four days in between to keep yourself where youre at and not lose anything.

Where hes at now is different than where he was early in the season, perhaps still dealing with the effect of the stress fracture in his lower back that ended last season for him after just 14 starts. After his first eight starts this season, Buchholz was 4-2 with a 7.77 ERA, with the Sox were 4-4 in those games.

Yeah, the stuffs the same. I feel like the stuff Im throwing is the same, he said. For the most part Im off middle of the plate a little more and ground balls that are getting hit right at guys just werent hit at them early in the year. They were just out of their reach and two runs would score on a ground ball like that. So a little bit of luck involved and the confidence part of it, being able to throw a pitch with conviction rather than second-guessing it.

And getting wins.

Rangers' Darvish has Red Sox on no-trade list

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Rangers' Darvish has Red Sox on no-trade list

Not that they need him -- they have other, far more pressing needs than starting pitching -- but the Red Sox couldn't get Yu Darvish, the subject of trade rumors with the deadline approaching, even if they wanted to.

Per Ken Rosenthal:

Interesting that last year's two World Series participants, the Cubs and Indians, are with the Red Sox on Darvish's no-trade list, which indicates he made these decisions based on factors other than chasing a ring.

The Sox' biggest worry, of course, is that the Rangers will trade Darvish to the Yankees, who are short of starting pitching. But the talk more and more is that Texas -- light years behind Houston in the A.L. West race but only 4 1/2 games back of Kansas City for the second wild-card spot -- will hold onto its ace right-hander at least until the end of the season.

Drellich: Strikeout records or rest for Chris Sale?

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Drellich: Strikeout records or rest for Chris Sale?

BOSTON -- Savor Sale. And maybe save him, too.

Down the stretch, the Red Sox could have some tough choices to make with Chris Sale, who’s on his way to having a great all-time season, particularly for a starting pitcher this century. 

Should the Red Sox let the lefty loose on Pedro Martinez’s club record of 313 strikeouts and 13.20 Ks per nine innings, both set in 1999? Or, if at all possible, should the Sox hold Sale back some nights, with an eye on preservation and the postseason?

If Sale keeps up his present pace, he’s taking down Pedro in total Ks.

After Tuesday’s 4-0 win over the Mariners, Sale is 21 starts into the year and has 211 strikeouts. He leads the majors in strikeouts per nine innings, at 12.80, and is averaging seven innings per start. A projected schedule for the rest of his season, one that’s just a guess and works in several turns on five days rest, has a dozen starts remaining for Sale. That would give him 33 on the season. 

If each one lasts seven innings, he’d finish with about 232 1/3 innings in the regular season and 330 strikeouts (based on his performance so far).

Those whiffs come at a cost, though. Sale is averaging a major league-high 110 pitches per game after 115 tosses Wednesday. Justin Verlander is the next closest, at 107 1/3 pitches per outing.

If the American League East stays tightly packed, there may be no way the Sox can reasonably afford Sale breaks. They’re already making an effort to get him five days rest rather than the normal four. 

But if there are nights when the Sox can comfortably keep Sale’s pitch count closer to 100, or pull him after six innings rather than seven, should they?

Most players and teams would say the postseason is what everyone plays for. Sale all year has avoided talking about the Ks.

“I have a job to do,” Sale told reporters in Seattle on Wednesday after fanning 11. “I’m not here for strikeouts. I’m here to get wins. That’s all that really matters at the end of the day, honestly.”

It’s not all that matters, though. People want to see history made. Red Sox fans might even tune in for it. (Secretly, Sale might even like the idea.)

Sale, the modern-day Randy Johnson, has not allowed a run in 20 2/3 scoreless innings since the All-Star Break, a span of three starts. He has a 1.04 ERA in July with 56 strikeouts. Every one of his road outings this year has included at least nine strikeouts, and 14 of his 21 starts overall have featured 10 or more.

Unsurprisingly, the only Sox pitcher with more double-digit strikeout games in a season is Martinez, who had 19 in 1999 and 15 the next year. The last time any pitcher had 14 double-digit K games was 2002, when Curt Schilling had 14 and the Big Unit had 15.

Records may fall, but there's a balancing act waiting to unfold.