NEW YORK — Not sure who this is more frustrating for — Clay Buchholz, the fans, or the Red Sox.
When Buchholz does return from the neck strain that has kept him out since June 8, it will be akin to the Red Sox acquiring a top-echelon pitcher, one who started the season 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA. Buchholz was basically having a Max Scherzer season before Max Scherzer, the American League’s starter in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
Who knows what Buchholz’s record might have been. Could he have been 15-0, one-upping Scherzer to this point? The way he was pitching, he sure could have.
What’s frustrating is the injury does not appear to be major. The X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans all have shown just inflammation in the neck region where the combination of two different injuries (bursa sac and neck strain) seem to be one and the same.
The injury has created a nuisance and a weird situation in which Buchholz is dictating to the medical staff and management when he can pitch again.
When asked if he felt there was pressure for him to return, he said, “I did earlier. I finally sat down and we talked and I said, ‘Hey, let me tell you when I feel ready and then we can set something up.’ You don’t want to feel good, ramp it up, and then you have a setback.”
Yet Buchholz also said that if this were September, a “do-or-die” situation, that he would likely be pitching.
So you can see why this is frustrating for all involved.
While Buchholz is right that his fellow pitchers have filled in admirably in his “ace” role, the Rays are only two games out in the loss column at the break. And their ace, David Price, has given them a huge confidence boost as he has returned to his 2012 Cy Young Award-winning form. And with Alex Cobb returning in early August, the Rays are in good shape.
So when Buchholz throws in a bullpen session Thursday at Fenway — which would lead to a simulated game if he feels OK — it will be what we in the business call “a biggie.” Because that means he will then schedule a rehab assignment of two, maybe three starts, after which he would be good to go.
“The first day I feel I’m pretty much normal, I’ll be out there,” said Buchholz from Citi Field, where he was taking part in the All-Star festivities.
At first, Buchholz was going to do his bullpen session here, but that changed. He’s just playing long toss and will save his session for when pitching coach Juan Nieves, manager John Farrell, and the medical staff can watch him.
“It’s been frustrating for sure,” the righty said. “I’ve said it all along that all the other [Red Sox starters] are out there doing their jobs. It would be tougher if things weren’t going as we wanted and guys weren’t throwing the ball well. It would be tougher to sit back and watch, but everyone’s pitching well so that’s why I’m gonna make sure I’m 100 percent before I go back out there.”
Buchholz said he’s been feeling the soreness and stiffness in his neck when he follows through or decelerates on his delivery.
“It’s muscular where that inflammation is,” Buchholz said. “There was nothing there except inflammation and there’s only two places to go, one is up your neck or down your arm. [The soreness] is the aftereffects of treatments and throwing before I should have picked up a ball.”
Buchholz continued, “It’s not something that kills me to do. I don’t know what it would lead to if I kept throwing, throwing, throwing on it. It’s like picking a scab. I don’t want to keep messing with this forever. I don’t know how long it’s gonna take, but regardless of how long it takes, I want it to be done and not going out there for a couple of starts and then have a setback. That’s my mind-set.’’
And that mind-set elicits different responses from different camps. Some may want Buchholz to tough it out and make his starts, while others may think he’s doing the right thing by being cautious.
It seems that this is all up to Buchholz, who’s had major back surgery and perhaps that has spooked him on this injury.
This has been an event-filled year for Buchholz, starting with his great start and then the charge of doctoring the ball levied against him by two Blue Jays broadcasters. For a couple of weeks that was actually an issue and Major League Baseball was watching his routine on the mound like a hawk to see if there was any truth to the charges. MLB found no evidence to support the claims.
With his fast start, anything could have been possible. Buchholz could have been en route to the Cy Young. He could have won 25 games. He could have been the best pitcher in baseball right now.
Buchholz is right that being completely healthy is the desired result. None of us, including Buchholz, seems to know when 100 percent health will occur. At some point Buchholz may have to alter his approach and pitch through it. But that will be up to him.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.