Howard Herman: Clay Buchholz flashes potential on Patriots' Day


BOSTON >> As Boston Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz departed from the pitcher's mound in the top of the seventh inning, the sound of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by Frankie Valli echoed through Fenway Park on Monday.

That was either good news or bad news, depending on whether you believe the glass to be half full or half empty.

The song, which back in the '60s was a million seller, starts out: "You're just too good to be true. Can't take my eyes off you."

So, maybe we can't take our eyes off the job Buchholz did. The right-hander pitched 6 2/3 innings on Monday morning. As several of my social media friends asked, maybe he's just a morning person.

Not so, at least, according to the pitcher.

"It felt good, despite it being at 11 o'clock in the morning," Buchholz said after the Toronto Blue Jays rallied for four runs in the eighth inning against the Boston bullpen for a 4-3 win on Patriots' Day. "It's one of the things I'll have to get over. I'm not the best morning person."

Buchholz threw 97 pitches in his nearly seven innings of work, 59 of them for strikes.

The right-hander was making his third start on Marathon Monday. He is now 1-1 with a no-decision, which he got this year. Buchholz was the losing pitcher two years ago against Baltimore, and was the winner back in 2008, when he beat the Texas Rangers.

Buchholz scattered six hits and two walks, but did not allow a run. He was aided by four double plays, three of them grounded into by Mr. Bat Flip himself, Jose Bautista.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, an eighth-inning implosion by the Boston defense and bullpen led to a four-run inning that cost Buchholz his first win of the season, and probably pushed him out of the spotlight. Nobody in the Boston clubhouse or manager John Farrell for that matter were pushing the panic button over the inability of Koji Uehara or Craig Kimbrel to keep runs from scoring.

But the real question that Red Sox Nation is asking is whether or not Buchholz is "just too good to be true?"

After all, this was the same Clay Buchholz who came into the game with an 0-1 record and an earned-run average of 10.00. In two starts, he pitched nine innings and gave up 10 earned runs on 11 hits. He got lit up in starts at Cleveland and at home against Baltimore.

"I felt really good with just about everything. The curveball came to me a little bit later," Buchholz said after the game. "The fastball, changeup, cutter mix was probably the best I've had."

If you were looking for a statistical anomaly from Buchholz's performance, it was the fact that he induced four, count 'em four, inning-ending double plays. He got Bautista to ground into double plays in the first, fourth and sixth innings, and then got eventual Toronto hero Russell Martin to ground into an inning-ender in the second. It was Martin's two-run single off of Kimbrel in the eighth that produced the margin of victory.

"The two-seam sinker. It hadn't really been there and I've been trying to overthrow it and do too much with it," said Buchholz, when asked about the out pitch for the four double plays. "Just in the bullpen working and on the side the last three or four days, it's been my goal to get the feel for it back."

It has been Clay Buchholz who has teased Red Sox fans for years. The question as the sun set over the Hub was whether Monday's performance was a teaser, or the start of something.

"Nobody wants to keep giving up four or five or six runs. It wasn't a whole lot different what I was doing," he said. "It was that I tried to be more relaxed and throw the ball into spots rather than trying to nibble.

"I walked [Toronto's Josh] Donaldson a few times. But I'd rather walk him than give up a homer."

It might take more than a start or two to convince baseball fans that Clay Buchholz has turned the corner and will start to live up to the potential he has flashed. If he has, at long last, turned that corner, the Red Sox will be better for it.

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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