FORT MYERS, Fla. In past spring trainings, right-hander Clay Buchholz has been the guy whos had to prove himself, showing that he deserved a spot in the starting rotation. At times even that wasnt enough to secure a spot.
Thats in the past. This spring he has none of those worries. After going 17-7 -- his 2.33 ERA was second-best in the American League -- and earning his first All-Star berth, Buchholz has established himself.
It feels good, he said. Im not going to say spring training is stress-free, because theres always things that you know you can get better on and you dont do them as good as you think you should. But going in, having a little bit of confidence, and knowing the team has a little bit of confidence in me, its definitely a different feeling this spring.
Against the Twins Sunday night at Hammond County Stadium, Buchholz went two scoreless innings in the Red Sox 8-4 loss.
It went pretty well, he said. I got to mix in. The only pitch I didnt throw today was the cutter and that was sort of what I was wanting to do going into it. Threw a couple of breaking balls, and majority of fastball, changeup, two-seam, and felt good. First time out, and on the right road, so far.
Buchholz faced six batters, striking out catcher Drew Butera to open the third inning.
Buck looked great, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Just downward angle from the beginning. Kept the ball down, mixed his pitches up, just lights out. Looked good.
Although Buchholz and Saltalamacchia worked together just once last season, Saltalamacchia sees no reason why Buchholz wont improve in 2011.
I dont see any reason why any of our guys wont improve, he said. They all got great stuff, and Buck, hes got four pitches. He can get you out. So, a guy like that makes it easy to sit back and call the game, for sure.
Buchholz likes what he sees from his new catcher, too.
Good, he said of their first Grapefruit League game together. Hes a big target. We got two catchers this year that are just huge targets. Its easier to throw to a guy thats wider than the plate than a guy thats sitting back there. Even with Victor Martinez last year, its the same case. Its definitely good.
"Saltalamacchia's got his things that he does and hes made sure hes come by everybody and asked if its alright. The little leg thing he does (the Tony Pena-style squat with his right leg out). But hes a big target, can call a game, knows what hes doing. Thats what it takes to be a good catcher, from that point of view. So hes doing a real good job.
Buchholz entered the game in the third inning, relieving starter Josh Beckett, giving Buchholz a slightly different feel. He hasnt entered a regular-season game from the bullpen since 2008. Its just part of the early spring training routine.
"I knew that it was basically going out there and getting my work done, he said. So it wasnt like a game in October or anything. No, I tried to do the same routine I do when Im starting. But it went pretty smooth out there.
Buchholz is expected to start against the Yankees on Friday in Tampa.
Sweet, he said when informed of his next opponent.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen