Clay Buchholz once again Sunday fell far short of his billing, allowing five runs in 3 2/3 innings, and three home runs, in the Red Sox’ 9-6 17-inning loss to the Orioles at Fenway Park.
“Clay’s performance is not what he wanted or I wanted it to be for sure,’’ said manager Bobby Valentine. “He left a lot of pitches in a real hittable zone and gave up a lot of hard-hit balls.’’
When asked if Buchholz was in danger of being removed from the starting rotation, Valentine said, “I have no plans to change him at this time.’’
Buchholz is far from the pitcher who won 17 games in 2010 and management has to be wondering what to do.
Buchholz could be removed from the rotation, but with Aaron Cook on the shelf and Daisuke Matsuzaka still two or three starts away from being called back up, that may not be a viable option right now.
Buchholz, who has allowed five or more earned runs in all six of his starts, left the game to a round of boos with one out in the fourth inning, having allowed seven hits and having walked four and struck out four.
Buchholz allowed solo shots to shortstop J.J. Hardy in the first and third and then a three-run bomb to Red Sox killer Robert Andino, the No. 9 hitter in the order, in the fourth. That came after Buchholz had walked two batters and allowed a single off the center field wall to Nick Johnson, who was thrown out between first and second.
There were no excuses this time. No bloop hits. No balls trickling through the infield.
“I’ve been upset with myself for the past six weeks,’’ Buchholz said. “It’s just frustrating to go out there and make some good pitches and still get hit. It’s not easy. I have to keep telling myself it’s not that easy. It looks easy for some guys, but sometimes you have to go through some struggles to get where you want to be. I think that’s where I’m at right now. Just gotta find a way through it.’’
Buchholz said he feels fine physically.
“I feel good,’’ he said. “If I knew the reason I was giving up runs I’d probably fix it. Gotta figure it out.’’
Asked about his velocity being down a tick, he said, “I’m not trying to go out there and throw as hard as I can. I’m just trying to stretch it out through innings when I’m out there pitching. I’ve got to find something, work on things in the bullpen, keep working, and I think once a good five, six innings comes out then it’ll be something to build off. The past few starts it’s just been the big inning. Can’t minimize the damage right now.’’
He said about his changeup, an important pitch for him, “Every change I threw, even the last hit I gave up to Hardy, [that] was one of the best I threw all day. I’ll go out there, give up a home run, get the ball back and keep pitching. That’s all you can do. You can’t get to a point where you’re [so] frustrated you’re not being able to think about what you have to do and what you need to do.’’
Buchholz had been the beneficiary of excellent run support (10.86 runs per nine innings, tops in the majors, entering the game) in running off a 3-1 record. His ERA was 8.69 entering Sunday and it increased to 9.09.
Cook, who needed 11 stitches to close a deep cut he sustained after being spiked by Chris Davis in the second inning of the Sox’ 8-2 loss Saturday, headed to the 15-day disabled list.
The Sox replaced him with lefty Andrew Miller, whose 30-day rehab stint was about to expire and who could have asked for his release had the Sox not returned him to the majors.
Miller, who relieved Buchholz Sunday and pitched 1 1/3 innings, striking out the side in the fifth inning, cannot be considered for a starting role because he has not been stretched out yet, innings-wise.
“One, we need a little help in the bullpen obviously, so Aaron understands that,’’ said Valentine. “He understands baseball. Two, he has 11 stitches, and I can’t try to have him pitch. He’s had shoulder problems in the past. If the stitches come out, there could be infections. So it’s just the only thing we can do at this time, we think. He’d like to pitch, but it’s not going to happen.’’
The hope is that Miller, who had elbow and ankle issues in spring training, can work out of the bullpen and finally put it together. Valentine said he will use Miller as the first lefty out of the bullpen.
Miller made 12 appearances, two for Single A Greenville and 10 for Triple A Pawtucket, and had a 5.73 ERA.
“It was tough not getting repetitions in spring like everybody else,’’ Miller said. “But that’s what I’ve done the last month I guess. The last month has been my spring training, and I feel ready to go.
“It’s been good. I’ve gotten chances to warm up and sit down and warm up. I’ve gotten to warm up in the cold and the rain and I’ve thrown multiple innings, started innings, finished innings. All that stuff, it’s been nice to kind of work some of that stuff out and get used to it, and all of it’s gone pretty smoothly.’’
Melancon an option?
The Sox bullpen was stretched to the max Sunday, with everyone except Clay Mortensen being used. If the Sox decide to bolster their relief corps, they might bring Mark Melancon up from Pawtucket. Matt Albers, who pitched two scoreless innings Sunday, now has 10 consecutive scoreless innings under his belt . . . Matsuzaka will make his first Triple A rehab start Monday night (6:15 p.m.) at McCoy Stadium. He has been battling a neck issue, but he has been cleared to pitch . . . Will Middlebrooks, who hit a grand slam and a single, was back in the lineup after missing a game with cramps in his hamstring. Middlebrooks didn’t initially run hard on his single to the left-field corner in the 11th, believing it would go foul. “That ball starts out foul and turns fair down there,’’ Valentine said. “After you’ve seen it a couple of times you realize that. He’ll run the next time.’’ . . . Cody Ross struck out five times and Adrian Gonzalez went 0 for 8. Gonzalez declined to speak to the media after the game . . . Valentine said that Kevin Youkilis has begun a walking program for his back strain. He will not make the three-game trip to Kansas City . . . Dustin Pedroia was thrown out trying to steal second base in the first inning . . . Sox Hall of Famer Rico Petrocelli attended the game.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.