ARLINGTON, Texas — The Red Sox return to Fenway Park Monday after a 2-4 road trip that ended with three losses in Texas. That Clay Buchholz will be facing the Minnesota Twins could not be better timed.
Buchholz is 6-0 with a 1.01 earned run average. The best starter in baseball so far this season now needs to be a stopper.
“Confidence,” Buchholz said when asked what has been the key element to his starts. “It all comes from confidence.”
From a pitching standpoint, Buchholz has had at least three pitches he could throw for strikes in each of his six starts. That has allowed him to mix sequences and confuse hitters.
“It becomes a guessing game for them at that point,” he said.
Buchholz is averaging 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings, a jump from 6.1 last season. Manager John Farrell said Buchholz’s ability to consistently throw strikes in the bottom of the strike zone and induce groundballs has made his secondary pitches more effective.
Buchholz always has had a good changeup. His curveball and cutter have been above average this season.
“He’s been able to have both the majority of his starts so far,” Farrell said. “When he can expand the strike zone up and down and in and out with the assortment he has, hitters can’t sit on one side of the plate.”
Buchholz had a 0.79 ERA in spring training over six starts. For the first time in his career, he started the season without any concerns about certain pitches.
“There wasn’t particular thing I had to fix,” he said. “Everything felt pretty good. I tried to bring that into the season.”
Said Farrell: “I don’t know that anybody can say that [spring training] is a guarantee or a predictor of what the success is going to be. But he came into the start of the season with quite a bit of confidence.”
Buchholz is trying to enjoy his success because he knows there will be rough days along the way.
“It’s awesome right now. Totally fun,” he said. “But you’re going to have bad starts. I’m just trying to keep it going as long as I can.”
Buchholz is 3-1 with a 4.25 ERA in five starts against the Twins, 2-0, 0.90 in three starts at Fenway.
David Ortiz’s home run in the first inning extended his hitting streak to 25 games. He is hitting .438 with 10 doubles, 6 home runs, and 23 RBIs in that stretch.
Ortiz has reached base safely in 33 consecutive games, the longest streak of his career. It’s the longest such streak for a Red Sox player since Dustin Pedroia reached in 37 straight games during the 2011 season.
Ortiz is hitting .440 with a .473 on-base percentage and an .840 slugging percentage in the 13 games he has played this season.
Exam for Bailey
Righthanded reliever Andrew Bailey, who has a sore biceps, will get an MRI Monday morning.
“As much to give him some peace of mind with what he’s dealing with,” Farrell said. “It’s in that last 10 percent of intensity when he feels some of the symptoms that he’s going through.
“For our own information and his peace of mind, we’ve got to get that looked at.”
Bailey has been out for a week. The Red Sox could retroactively place him on the 15-day disabled list and he would miss only eight more days.
“Tomorrow we’ll probably have more information on that,” Farrell said.
If Bailey were to go on the disabled list, activating lefthander Craig Breslow would likely be the obvious move. Breslow, out all season recovering from shoulder soreness, has made five appearances in the minors. He threw a perfect inning for Triple A Pawtucket Saturday.
Will Middlebrooks did not start, which Farrell said was planned to get him some rest. But it’s no coincidence that Middlebrooks is hitting .159 in his last 23 games with 30 strikeouts and only six RBIs. He also made three errors in the first two games of the series.
Middlebrooks has been chasing balls out of the strike zone. He also isn’t getting much in return when he does make contact (a .222 average on balls in play).
There is frustration, but also a sense of determination.
“I’ve had these kind of periods before,” Middlebrooks said. “I’m not going to do anything crazy. I need to stick to my routine and work hard.’’
Middlebrooks came into the game to play third base in the ninth inning.
Righthanded relievers Junichi Tazawa (16 games) and Koji Uehara (15) are among the league leaders in appearances. It’s something the Red Sox need to keep an eye on, Farrell acknowledged. Uehara, who is 38, appeared in 37 games in 2012 and only 22 in 2011 because of injuries. “We’ve got to be careful of certain guys,” Farrell said. “Innings by starters are key.” . . . The Sox are 12-28 against Texas the last five seasons, 6-16 at Rangers Ballpark. They are 2-9 against Texas since the start of the 2012 season . . . Sunday marked the first time in 14 games the Sox scored first and did not win the game . . . Right fielder Shane Victorino was out of the lineup but pinch ran in the ninth. The Sox are being cautious after he missed seven days with a back strain . . . The Sox don’t have a day off until May 13, so skipping lefty Felix Doubront isn’t really an option unless some sort of roster move is made. Doubront has a 5.67 ERA and has experienced a sharp drop in velocity from last season. He has been working on ways to improve his arm strength with pitching coach Juan Nieves. “There’s been a little bit more emphasis on the long toss in terms of the intensity,” Farrell said. “Can’t say that we’re going to ramp up the volume of it much more. We’re trying to stay consistent with the work.”Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.