McAdam: Buchholz out of luck so far this year

191542.jpg

McAdam: Buchholz out of luck so far this year

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BALTIMORE-- When Clay Buchholz took a big step forward in 2010 and finished with a 2.33 ERA, the second best among among qualifying starters in the American League, it seemed as though it was a culmination of sorts.

For years, Buchholz had exhbited signs that he was capable of becoming a front-line starter, but, frustratingly, wasn't able to put it together on a consistent basis.

His breakout season saw him finally make good on his potential.

But even as Buchholz was injecting himself into the Cy Young Award debate, there were sceptics. Buchholz, some warned, had an extraordinary BABIP (batting average for balls in play) of .261, some 34 points below the American League average of .295.

What that means was that Buchholz, while very good, was also very lucky at times. In another year, with at-bats resulting in the very same results, it's highly unlikely that Buchholz would record as many outs as he did on balls put in play.

Now, five starts in to 2011, the suspicion is growing. Or maybe it's just karma.

Buchholz allowed a career-high 12 hits Tuesday night as the Red Sox five-game winning streak was snapped in 4-1 loss to Baltimore. Though Buchholz had his first quality start Tuesday -- the last of the five Red Sox starters to record one -- he did not have a single 1-2-3 inning in the seven that he started. Buchholz owns the distinction of being the only Boston staritng pitcher in the last 11 games to allow more than two runs.

And he's done it twice.

Is this a preview of things to come? Is Buchholz about to pay for his good fortune of 2010 with a return to normalcy, and with it, a dropoff of in results in 2011?

(The Red Sox, apparently, are undeterred. Though no front office is more intrigued by peripheral statistics or open to sabermetrics, they felt confident enough to lavish Buchholz with a 30 million contract extension earlier this month).

The caprcious nature of results was evident when Buchholz, unprompted, suggested that his stuff Tuesday night (producing four runs on 12 hits over 6 23 innings) was better than his stuff last Wednesday afternoon in Oakland when he allowed just one run on six hits over 5 13 innings.

"And I got a win out of the start in Oakland," noted Buchholz.

Buchholz's start Tuesday -- or the four which preceded it -- shouldn't necessarily be cause for alarm. Though he did have a parade of baserunners (two per inning), three of the four Orioles runs came on sacrifice flies and a fourth on a well-placed roller to first which kicked off the bag before Adrian Gonzalez could intercept it.

Had Buchholz better executed his two-seam fastball on a few at-bats, he perhaps could have gotten groundouts instead of run-scoring flyouts. The pitcher himself conceded -- and Francona agreed -- that he needed to do a better job throwing inside to hitters and not them extend their hands on pitches out over the plate.

If there was one refreshing aspect of Buchholz's start, it was improved command. Buchholz had averaged four walks per start in his first four outings and Tuesday night, he had just two.

"When Clay gets on a roll," said Terry Francona, "he really goes with that. And he hasn't got there yet. I see his battling, I see his stuff being good."

Maybe even as good as last year. But not, perhaps unsurprisingly, yielding the kind of results he got a season ago.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Napoli: Red Sox and his agent only had 'small talk' about reunion

Napoli: Red Sox and his agent only had 'small talk' about reunion

BOSTON -- Of course, the Rangers' Mike Napoli didn't mind the idea of replacing David Ortiz. He loved playing in Boston.

There just was never much chatter that way last offseason, when Napoli was a free agent after his Indians took the Cubs to seven games in the World Series.

"I think my agent had maybe a small talk or something [with the Red Sox], but I don't think it ever would have happened," Napoli said Tuesday afternoon as he returned to Fenway Park with Texas. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I would have loved to come back. But, I mean, it all worked out. I'm glad to be where I'm at now. Because I knew everybody here [with the Rangers]. I didn't have to start over again."

Napoli played with the Rangers in 2011 and '12, and was traded by the Sox to Texas for the last few months of the 2015 season.

He was hopeful the Sox -- his team from 2013 to midseason 2015 -- would be among the clubs to come calling last winter.

"Oh, yeah," he said.

But he wasn't optimistic it was going to happen. And it didn't.

"To be honest with you . . . Cleveland was my first priority," he said. "I just had a World Series run [with the Indians] and we didn't win it. And then Texas was there [in the bidding, along with] Minnesota."

The Rangers wound up giving Napoli, 35, a one-year deal for 8.5 million with an $11 million club option for next season or a $2.5 million buyout. He's hitting just .188 entering Tuesday, a subpar figure, but has 10 home runs.

"We started off pretty slow, but winning 10 straight will help," Napoli said of the Rangers' recent tear. "[Winning] 11 of 12, we've been playing better. I think we kind of lost track of who we are. We got some guys struggling, still trying to find themselves and kind of got away from doing it together as a team, but we got back to doing that. It's been going pretty well."

Part of the World Series championship team of four years ago, Napoli loved being in Boston in 2013, and he enjoys being back now.

"What we were able to do in 2013, obviously, it's something I'l never forget and something I cherish," Napoli said. "I love coming back here to play."

When it was noted there's been so much turmoil since Napoli left -- the talk of Tuesday was manager John Farrell's job security -- he was unsurprised.

"You got to have thick skin to play here," Napoli said. "You're expected to win a championship every single year. But that's what I loved about playing here, is that people were on you. For me, I loved it. A lot of people probably couldn't do it.

"I knew it in my heart that I went out there and I played as hard as I possibly could every single time . . . I know you're not going to be perfect and live up to everyone."

Red Sox recall Sam Travis, send Velázquez back to Pawtucket

Red Sox recall Sam Travis, send Velázquez back to Pawtucket

BOSTON -- On the list of Red Sox problems, finding a platoon partner for Mitch Moreland at first base isn't high on the list. But the others -- third base, fifth starter -- aren't solvable at the moment, so the Sox turned to one they think they can solve.

Today they recalled Sam Travis from Pawtucket, most likely to provide relief for Moreland against left-handed pitching. Travis' path to the majors was delayed by a knee injury that cost him a good chunk of the 2016 season -- otherwise, odds are good he'd have been here by now -- but he signaled his readiness by recovering from a 5-for-36 start with a sizzling .344 average in 90 at-bats since April 22 that includes six doubles and three home runs. His OPS in that span is .909.

Most importantly, Travis crushes left-handed pitching. He's hit .358 (93-for-260) against them in his professional career, and is .414 (12-for-29) against them this year. 

Hector Velázquez was sent back to the PawSox to make room for Travis, ensuring another roster move later this week. After Kyle Kendrick's failed attempt to take control of the fifth spot in the starting rotation, Velázquez was called up and given a shot in Oakland last Thursday night. He allowed six earned runs over five innings, failing the test. And thus the search for a fifth starter -- at least until David Price returns -- continues.

Price will make a rehab start in Pawtucket tomorrow and could return to Boston after that, but the Sox will need a pitcher for Saturday's game against Seattle. Even if Price is cleared to return to Boston, he won't be able to pitch Saturday on two days' rest.