Strong outing, but no win for Buchholz

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Strong outing, but no win for Buchholz

BOSTON -- Through the first month of the season, Clay Buchholz proclaimed himself the only pitcher in Major League Baseball who was complaining about wins.

He went 3-1 in five starts in April, but had an ERA of 8.69, and hadn't allowed less than five runs in any of those outings. But he was getting enough offensive support to get him wins.

In his last two starts against the rival Tampa Bay Rays, it's been the opposite. Buchholz has been at his best, but in those two starts, he's 0-1.

Alfredo Aceves blew it for him on Sunday at Fenway Park. Buchholz finished the game having allowed just two runs on eight hits and a walk, while striking out a season-best six batters.

When Buchholz left the mound after the top of the seventh, the Red Sox trailed 2-0. But thanks to Adrian Gonzalez' heroic three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh, Buchholz was lined up for his team-leading fifth win of the season.

But Aceves blew it in the ninth, allowing a two-run home run to Sean Rodriguez that put the Rays ahead 4-3, which ended up being the final score, giving Buchholz a no-decision.

"Clay had a really good changeup, his fastball was explosive, I was very encouraged," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine after the loss. "He looked good. He looked good, and then gave up that second run. He was still throwing pretty good, I guess.

"I thought we were going to pull that one out and get him one he deserved. I thought he deserved a win today."

Buchholz was also disappointed that he hasn't got the results in his last two starts against the Rays, both this weekend and last week, when he allowed two runs in five innings while walking one and striking out five at the Trop.

"Nobody likes losing, but I was always told that you've got to be able to accept it sometimes," said Buchholz afterwards. "It's a tough loss there."

Buchholz was, however, encouraged with his changeup on Sunday. It's always been a strikeout pitch for him, and after searching for it for weeks, he feels he's finally made the proper progression with the pitch that allows him to confidently throw it in any count.

"I've been able to start trusting it again, and throwing it like I have in the past," said Buchholz.

"It's the pitch that always has been a strikeout pitch for me my whole career, in the minor leagues, up here," he added. "It's a pitch that I can throw behind in a count when it's good, and I can also throw it when I'm ahead in the count."

His catcher agreed.

"He went after guys, threw strikes, was able to throw strikes with his changeup, was able to get ahead with the fastball as well," said Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "But his changeup is so good that its tough to sit back and wait on it when hes throwing that fastball as hard as he does. So he did a great job, a great job all around."

Result aside, if you noticed anything else different with Buchholz on Sunday, it was the speed he was working at. Buchholz said that he made it a point to work quicker on Sunday, and that it was an area that came up before his previous start in Baltimore.

"I tried doing it in Baltimore," said Buchholz. "Just to get back on the mound, regardless of what pitch I just threw and the result of that pitch. And to keep my infielders on their toes, because I know, I've played the position before, and it's tough when you've got a guy out there taking forever to throw each pitch."

It seemed like it worked, and Buchholz put together another solid outing against the Rays. He just didn't get the end result he deserved.

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.

That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.

With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.

"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."

Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?

Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.