By Sean McAdam
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was only a year ago, and yet, it seems like much longer.
When Clay Buchholz reported to spring training last February, very little was guaranteed for him. Though the Red Sox had resisted trading him and viewed him a potential front-of-the-rotation starter, he had yet to establish himself as a dependable major-league starter, with just a dozen wins spread over parts of the three previous seasons.
That was before, of course, Buchholz enjoyed his breakout 2010 season when he won 17 games and fashioned a tidy 2.33 ERA, earning him a spot on the All-Star team and a more secure spot in the rotation.
This spring, the uncertainty that surrounded him a year ago has dissolved, and with it, the need to prove himself. Buchholz is no longer a prospect; he's established. Whereas last year he had to make a statement to make the team, Buchholz isn't under the same sort of scrutiny.
"It definitely feels different, but it feels good," said Buchholz, "having a full season under my belt, having that feeling that I belong in this position and feeling that the team has a little bit of confidence in me going into the season."
Buchholz recalled fretting over a poor start against the Minnesota Twins last March and wondering how it might impact his chance to make the club. That won't be an issue this year.
Instead, he'll use his time here as preparation, not a job audition.
"That's one of the things I talked to John Lackey about last year," said Buchholz. "His big thing was coming into spring training and viewing it as a process to get ready for the season. That's how I think spring training should be labeled.
"I definitely want to come into spring training ready to throw, but not particularly be in mid-season form at the beginning so that you burn out during the season. That's how I'm going to take it this year."
In recalling 2010, Buchholz cited a number of factors responsible for his growth as a pitcher -- and not all of them were physical. He learned a lot about the mental toughness needed to succeed in the American League East.
As a younger pitcher, Buchholz was sometimes prone to being rattled. Baserunners would distract him and his focus would wander at times.
But last year, Buchholz kept his poise better and didn't allow problems to snowball.
"I think I matured a little bit," he said, "as far having the ability in some big situations, making one pitch and getting out of a jam . . . If I had a bad outing, I forgot about it, had a short memory. And even if it was a good outing, forget about that, too, and go out and try to do the same thing."
Few pitchers are ever satisfied, and Buchholz includes himself in that group. There are still areas in which he would like to see improvement, including the ability to "make some adjustments a little quicker. I think I did a better job as far as mechanically doing something wrong and coming back the next batter and fixing it. I'd like to make a pitch-by-pitch thing. If I make a mistake, adjust on the next pitch instead of waiting for the next batter."
Like the rest of the Red Sox staff, Buchholz will have to go forward without the counsel of pitching coach John Farrell who left last November to manage the Toronto Blue Jays. Farrell's absence will be felt.
"John Farrell was awesome," said Buchholz. "He was probably one of the big reasons why I had success last year. I finally got accustomed to talk to him and not be afraid of him. He's just a stern person, always about business.
"Talking to Curt Young, new pitcing coach, he's a different personality. He's going to fit in well with this clubhouse."
Buchholz isn't making personal predictions for 2011. He's content to see where his talent takes him.
"As far as projecting numbers," said Buchholz, I'm not expecting anything. I'm just going to go out and make pitches, go pitch-by-pitch and go from there."