BOSTON - Clay Buchholz has been called a lot of things this season, but "leader" isn't one of them.
That's going to change.
It's due to circumstance more than anything else, still the player who began the season as the team's fifth starter, has run into big trouble throughout, landed on the disabled list for a time, and is still working towards righting his ship, is now the rotation's veteran and lead man.
"A little [strange], yeah, because I don't feel like I'm old by any means," Buchholz said. "But time passes pretty quickly in this game. I've learned a lot through all the guys who have come through and left, and made some really good friends too. I feel like this is just how it's going to be for this year at least."
Buchholz had a strong relationship with his fellow starting pitchers and his locker was right next to John Lackey's in the Sox clubhouse.
But with a staff that will now feature Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Joe Kelly, and Anthony Ranaudo, Buchholz goes from the undependable, injury-prone pitcher to the one that needs to set the tone for the rest of the staff.
"It's an opportunity for him to grow into that [leadership role] a little bit more," John Farrell said. "And yet one of the greatest ways to demonstrate leadership is going out and performing your job first and foremost. Clay has shown of late since coming off the DL a number of starts where he was able to do that, but he also does provide a lot of experience particularly against teams in this division, that he can lend first-hand experience to some of the younger guys. And I'm confident that he'll relish that role."
As far as leadership qualities go, it remains to be seen just how many of those Buchholz has. He's always had pitchers such as Lester, Lackey, and Josh Beckett to lead the way - for better or worse - and has been able to follow. Now, that isn't the case.
"I've always thought of myself as pretty easy going and relaxed," Buchholz said. "If somebody wants any kind of advice, I'm more than open to help out in any way. First and foremost is you have to go out and prepare yourself in a way that you can give the team a chance to win. I've never strayed away from that. Sometimes it doesn't happen like you want it to . . ."
It's been a disappointing season for Buchholz, who's 5-7 with a 5.87 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. He's coming off a game in which he was knocked around for seven runs in five innings. Perhaps it isn't the best time to take on a new role with so much still to fix with himself.
If Buchholz was never going to step up and be the leader with a guy like Lester on the staff, perhaps being thrust into the job will be a good thing. Nobody expects Buchholz to be Lester overnight, but let's not forget that Buchholz was pitching better than Lester for the first half of the 2013 season. He's gone off track since, but the talent is there.
"You can't. You can't replace Jon Lester," Buchholz said. "That's sort of in a nutshell. There's nobody on this staff that can go in there and do exactly what he did. You can try to be as good, but everybody knows how good Jon Lester is and what he meant to this team over the past 7 or 8 years."
Buchholz is praising Lester there, but in doing so writes himself off as someone who can step up and fill the void. As the veteran and leader, the word "can't" has to go. Never say never, Buch.
The remainder of this season is just as much about Buchholz proving he can lead as it is the young pitchers proving they're worthy of being led.