BOSTON -- Nine starts into his season, it's as if a flip was switched for Clay Buchholz. In reality, he finally has a grip on things. After a no-decision in Baltimore on May 21, his ERA was a bloated 7.84, he had walked as many hitters as he had struck out and he was averaging more than a homer allowed per start. There was talk that he might be sent back to the minor leagues. At the very least, his spot in the Red Sox starting rotation seemed in jeopardy. Ever since then, however, Buchholz has looked much more like the pitcher who showed such great promise in 2010. Buchholz tossed a complete game shutout Thursday night against the Orioles, and over his last three starts, he's compiled a 1.50 ERA. He's averaged eight innings in those starts and has 19 strikeouts in his last three starts. Buchholz attributes the turnaround to a different grip on his changeup, which can be his best pitch. "The changeup is a big pitch for me,'' said Buchholz after the Red Sox blanked the Orioles, 7-0. "I'm able to throw that to get back into the count or get ahead in the count. The only adjustment was the grip. I think my grip was a little off. I've been able to free that up a little bit. It's just been a pitch that we've tried to work on for a long time and I noticed it wasn't the same grip that I had in past years. "Now it's coming back.'' So, too, is Buchholz. Through the first nine starts of the season, he had pitched through the seventh just once; in his last three outings, he's made it through seven each time. And thanks in part to the changeup, his strikeout totals are up. In his first nine starts, Buchholz never fanned more than five. In his last three starts, meanwhile, he's fanned at least six. Thursday's effort was his best yet. He threw 125 pitches, a season high, but was in command until the end. "It was spectacular,'' said an appreciative Bobby Valentine of his starter's outing. "He had all of his pitches from the get-go. I thought his changeup and his arm speed on his changeup was spectacular. He threw some splits and his curveball was very active. "When you have control of the fastball and you're throwing in 93-94 mph, the changeup, split and curveball, you've got a good chance of winning.'' Valentine noted that the movement on Buchholz's pitches has induced hitters to swing early in the count, giving the pitcher a big advantage. "They don't want to get behind with that curveball that he has,'' said Valentine. "When you're talented and your stuff's working for you, it's easy to be confident because it's tough to hit that stuff.'' A few weeks back, there wasn't much success and even less confidence. But thanks to some work and adjustments, Buchholz has that swagger back on the mound. "This game's not easy,'' said Buchholz. "There's a lot of guys really good at this game who struggle. And there's a lot of guys who are really, really good who don't struggle. It's been a few slight adjustments and trying to focus on the next pitch instead of what just happened to the last hitter.''
The Red Sox signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract bn August 2014. Over parts of three seasons, the 29-year-old has a .679 OPS across 337 plate appearances in the majors and spent the vast majority of the 2016 season at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Castillo had a chance to start things off on the right foot in 2017, but that ship has already sailed. On Thursday against Northeastern at JetBlue Park, Castillo didn’t run out a routine ground ball. He claims he lost track of the outs. Manager John Farrell isn’t happy about the situation. Via Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald:
“Disappointing for a couple of reasons,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “One, he has lost the number of outs. Still, regardless of another of outs, getting down the line is controllable. And for a player in his situation, every little aspect of the game is important. That’s something that was addressed in the moment. He needs to execute the game situation. And for that matter, every player. But that one obviously stood out.”
Everyone always makes far too big a deal about running out grounders. It’s a real nit to pick when it’s February 23 and your team just finished playing an exhibition game that is even more meaningless than the other exhibition games that will be played in the coming month.
That being said, Castillo has to prove himself to merit inclusion on the 25-man roster and that means dotting all his i’s and crossing all his t’s. Even if he went hitless all spring, Castillo could have at least said he couldn’t have done anything else better. But on day one, he already gave his team a reason to count him out.