Buchholz hopes to remain dominant in Tampa

Buchholz hopes to remain dominant in Tampa
October 6, 2013, 6:45 pm
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Clay Buchholz's recent history includes a three-month sabbatical due to shoulder inflammation, making his start in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday night something of an unknown.
But when it comes to Buchholz and the big picture, a different history emerges, one that portends well for the pitcher and the Red Sox.
In nine career starts at Tropicana Field, Buchholz holds a 2.26 ERA, the best among active starters with 50 or more innings pitched.
"I don't know if there's a rhyme or reason," said Buchholz Sunday. "I just think pitching against this team a lot -- they know me and the pitches I throw and I know their hitters pretty well, just going over them for a couple of years now.
"So I don't know if there's any particular reason why my numbers are good here, but once you start throwing good at one place, you get more comfortable throwing in that ballpark and that's all there is to it."
Buchholz made four starts at the end of the regular season, going 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA. At times, his command faltered as he walked four in six innings, tying a season high. He seemed to lack command of some of his secondary pitches, and his velocity wasn't what it had been in the first three months of the season.
But those growing pains are to be expected after such a long layoff, and the Sox aren't worried about Buchholz's readiness for Monday.
"Physically, there are no restrictions," said John Farrell. "Since coming off the DL, we've been able to progress him to a pitch count and comfortably get north of 100 pitches. I think there's been some inconsistent command with the fastball, but nothing to the point of saying some (physical) is causing it. In other words, (there's no) ailment of some sort that's the root of it."
"In my mind," echoed Buchholz, "there's nothing that's going to hold me back as far as pitching. Everything is pretty much back to normal. There's not anything that I have to alter to get through or anything."
Even the diminished velocity isn't much of an issue since, as one scout recently noted, Buchholz has a variety of pitches -- from a curveball to change to split-finger fastball -- on which he can rely.
He doesn't have to overpower hitters or get lots of swing-and-misses, since he can induce poor contact and get outs on the ground, and do so with fewer pitches."
Buchholz knows that a well-pitched game can send the Red Sox into the American League Championship Series, but Sunday, he said he's not focusing on what's at stake or what a victory could mean.
"You've got to think of it as just another baseball game," he said. "That's what it is right now. I know it's a pivotal game. But once you step between the lines, it turns into another game and you've got to go out and try to compete and give our team a chance to win."
For a time during season, with his return date pushed back and setbacks encountered, Buchholz had reason to wonder if, as happened in 2011 when he suffered a stress fracture of the lower back, his season had ended at the midway point.
"At one point," he said, "it was a struggle for mentally to know that I'd been out for an extended period of time, a lot longer than I wanted to be out. The throwing wasn't near as therapeutic as I thought it was supposed to be or going to be. It just never got any better and I finally had to take two steps back to get moving in the right direction."
A visit with Dr. James Andrews confirmed to Buchholz that he had no structural issues in his shoulder, but the noted surgeon advised Buchholz to take a more gradual approach to building up arm strength, maintaining that he had tried to do too much, too soon.
A new program was instituted which allowed Buchholz to return, in fact, for a mid-September start at Tropicana Field, the very ballpark in which Buchholz will attempt to complete a sweep for the Sox Monday night.
It is, after all he's been through, quite an opportunity.
"This is what baseball is all about," said Buchholz. "Everybody wants to be in this position; if you don't, you're in the wrong sport. I'm excited, a little anxious to get it started. I'm going to try to do the same thing I've done all year when I've been out there -- play in the zone, throw strikes, and try to get your hitters back in the dugout as quick as possible."