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

791700.jpg

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.

Porcello loses 10th game as Red Sox fall to Twins, 4-1

Porcello loses 10th game as Red Sox fall to Twins, 4-1

BOSTON -- Twins rookie lefty Adalberto Mejia is feeling more comfortable each time he takes the mound.

Mejia pitched 5 2/3 innings in his second straight scoreless start, Max Kepler hit a two-run homer and Minnesota rebounded from two consecutive losses against Boston to beat the Red Sox 4-1 on Wednesday night.

"He did a nice job," Twins manager Paul Molitor said about Mejia. "He had to kind of battle. It's kind of becoming a little bit of his MO to burn through pitches, but similarly to his last start, he kept walking off the field with zeros."

Kepler also had an RBI single, and Miguel Sano added an RBI double to help the Twins improve to 24-11 on the road.

Mejia (3-3) allowed five hits, struck out three and walked one in his 11th career start. On Friday night at Cleveland, he held the Indians to two hits over five innings in a victory.

"I feel calmer every time I'm out there," he said through a translator. "I think that's why I did better."

Brandon Kintzler got the final three outs for his 21st save.

Boston starter Rick Porcello (4-10) gave up four runs on six hits in six innings, striking out six and walking two. It was his 14th straight start going at least six innings, the AL's longest active streak.

"It's not like they're beating the cover off the ball," Porcello said. "It's just a couple things here and there that I've got to clean up. I'm not making excuses for myself. I definitely hold myself accountable for the loss tonight."

Red Sox manager John Farrell was back in the dugout after serving a one-game suspension Tuesday for poking umpire Bill Miller in the chest during an argument Saturday.

The Red Sox stranded 11 baserunners, and at least one in every inning. Farrell thought his team may have been pressing a bit.

"I thought there were times we might have expanded the strike zone a little bit, trying to make something happen," he said.

With Minnesota leading 2-0 in the sixth, Kepler lined his homer off the back of Boston's bullpen.

In the first, the Twins scored a pair of two-out runs when Sano hit his RBI double down the third-base line and scored on Kepler's broken-bat single.

Xander Bogaerts drove in Boston's run with a bases-loaded grounder in the seventh.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Twins: LHP Glen Perkins resumed throwing Tuesday after a setback last week following offseason shoulder surgery. Molitor said the club is still formulating a plan for him. He's been sidelined all season and pitched in just two games last year.

Red Sox: DH Hanley Ramirez missed his third straight game after getting hit by a pitch on the left knee Sunday. "He'll go through a full workday today," Farrell said. "He's feeling improved."

MATCHES OWN RECORD

Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia played his 98th consecutive error-less game, matching the best mark in club history he set for a second baseman from 2009-10.

LOOKS FAMILIAR

This season has started like 2015 for Porcello, the AL's reigning Cy Young Award winner.

Two years ago when he struggled badly, the righty lost nine of his initial 13 decisions and finished 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA.

ROSTER MOVE

Minnesota right-hander Phil Hughes was activated from the 10-day disabled list and LHP Craig Breslow was put on with rib cage soreness.

Hughes had been on the DL since complaining of a "dead feeling" in his pitching shoulder on May 21. He allowed one run in three innings during three rehabilitation appearances in Triple-A.

Molitor plans to use him out of the bullpen.

UP NEXT

Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson (4-5, 6.23 ERA) looks to continue his success in Fenway Park in the series finale Thursday. He's allowed only one run over 15 innings in two career starts.

Red Sox: LHP David Price (2-2, 4.76) has won his last five decisions against Minnesota, posting a 1.84 ERA.