Clay Buchholz has been a part of the Boston Red Sox since 2007. A hard-throwing righty with the ability to paint the corners, Buchholz is a type of pitcher every team needs. In 2013, Buchholz had his best season ever, prior to his shoulder injury.
Through June 8, 2013, Buchholz compiled an impressive 9-0 record to go along with a stellar 1.71 ERA. His injury couldn’t have happened at a worse time, and Buchholz lost the majority of his season (June-September). Buchholz did return and made four starts in the regular season, and four in the Red Sox World Series run, but he wasn’t the same. Instead of the seven or eight innings Buchholz averaged prior to injury, he was pitching five or six. Instead of the 6.75 strikeouts per start prior to injury, he was striking out an average of just four.
This year has not been kind to Buchholz, either. The big Texan’s ERA currently sits at an unsightly 7.71, and he is striking out an average of 3.75 batters per start. In his four starts, Buchholz has twice failed to get out of the fifth inning (including Monday’s 2.1 inning effort). In his two other games, Buchholz was solid, going six innings and earning quality starts, but the red flags have already been raised.
The biggest problem for Buchholz is his major drop in velocity. At this point, Buchholz is lucky if he’s seeing 92 mph on the radar gun. Pitching that slowly — for a guy who normally throws 94 mph — is noteworthy, but note necessarily an indicator of failure; many pitchers have seen decreases in velocity and have found success in finesse and execution of pitches. Buchholz seemed to have been able to do just that in his two quality starts, but in the other two, he has looked like he shouldn’t be pitching in the majors. When his fastballs were, well, fast, Buchholz could get away with missing pitches and other problems, but that is not a luxury he has anymore.
This situation is one with a simple solution, but with a less clear path to getting there. Buchholz either needs to reacquire the fire in his fastball, or learn to pitch without it.
The prospect of sending Buchholz to the minors seems like a stretch, but it may be a good option. If Buchholz needs to work out his mechanics or learn to pitch differently, it may make sense to learn how to do so in the minors, where it can’t hurt the Red Sox like it did on Monday. Sending Buchholz to the minors would also give one of Boston’s prized pitching prospects some time to get some major league work. Buchholz’s stay in the minors could conceivably be very short — a start or two — and could benefit everyone. It’s probably more likely that the Sox brass give Buchholz a little longer to try to sort himself out in the majors, but the question remains as to when enough is enough.
No matter where it happens, Clay Buchholz has to right his own ship, and soon. If the Red Sox have any chance at repeating as champions, it will take a healthy rotation with all the pieces working to their full potential.