Three things were learned from the Red Sox's 5-4 victory Wednesday night in Seattle...
1) Clay Buchholz took a big step forward.
The pitching line -- four earned runs in 7 1/3 innings, with three homers allowed -- may not blow anybody way, but a closer look inside the start provided plenty of reason for optimism.
Though he wasn't always consistent with it, Buchholz effectively threw his changeup and mixed in an improved curveball. It marked the first start this season in which Buchholz had his full repertoire of pitches.
Buchholz admitted to reporters that, prior to Wednesday night, he had essentially pitched with just his fastball and cutter -- with predictable results.
Beyond better mechanics -- and improved confidence -- Buchholz looked like a different pitcher against the Mariners, even working at a quicker pace at times.
Manager John Farrell will come under criticism for letting Buchholz start the eighth since he immediately gave up a solo homer and then a hard-hit liner for the first out. But Buchholz was at just 73 pitches after seven and there was no need to baby him in his first start back, especially after he finished the seventh inning in impressive fashion, getting his only two strikeouts of the game in that inning.
Who knows why Buchholz has been incapable of pitching at a high level for an entire season? Perhaps it has something to do with his slight frame being unable to hold up to the rigors of a six-month season. Maybe it's been the result of inadequate conditioning and nutrition.
Whatever the reason, Buchholz has been due for a dominant stretch after compiling a 7.02 ERA in the first two months of the season. The Red Sox can only hope that A) Wednesday night signaled the beginning of a turnaround and B) it hasn't come too late.
2) Shane Victorino is not walking through that door.
Victorino sustained a setback in his rehab assignment with a lower back issue flaring up. This season has been a never-ending series of hamstring muscle pulls and assorted "general soreness'' issues for the fragile outfielder.
July is around the corner, and Victorino has managed to play 22 games. At this point, it would be a surprise if he got on the field to play another 60 in the final three months of the season.
Back injuries, which have dogged Victorino in the past few seasons, can be notoriously tricky things. But it would seem that the hamstring issues can be managed, at least somewhat, by conditioning and stretching.
Victorino appeared to be heavy when he reported to spring training and was held out for long stretches for what the Red Sox euphemistically termed "general core strengthening.''
Whatever was accomplished then, it hasn't seemed to work. Victorino has had two DL stints because of hamstring pulls and hasn't been available to the team for long stretches. When he did play, he had little impact.
Now, he faces another extended recovery period, which must have the Red Sox asking, to themselves at least: "Could any of this have been prevented?''
3) Daniel Nava is back.
Somewhat quietly, Nava has rediscovered his stroke in recent weeks. After returning from a second demotion to Triple A Pawtucket, Nava, who had a three-hit game Wednesday night, is hitting .391 (18-for-46) in his past 16 games.
Granted, there's not a lot of run production involved (two RBI in that span), but the very fact that Nava is regularly getting on base again must be viewed in a positive light.
If the Sox were hoping that Victorino could return and take his customary No. 2 spot in the batting order, they can now look to Nava to fill that spot.
With Brock Holt leadoff, Nava second followed by Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox could count on a pretty consistent 1-5 in
If nothing else, Nava represents an opportunity for the Sox to have more baserunners for when the middle of their order comes to the plate.