FORT MYERS, Fla. — If Clay Buchholz gets off to another start this season like he did last, when he went 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his first 12 outings, teams may want to consult Bo Greenwell. The Red Sox minor leaguer — son of former Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell — went 3 for 3 with a run scored off Buchholz in a minor league intrasquad game Sunday morning at the team’s spring training complex.
Buchholz, who stayed behind while the rest of the team flew to Baltimore after Saturday’s Grapefruit League finale, went six innings, giving up one run on seven hits and three walks with six strikeouts. Greenwell’s three hits were as many as the Rays could muster off Buchholz in the righthander’s only other six-inning spring outing, March 25.
“I threw everything I had at him,” Buchholz said. “He had a pretty good approach at everything. He seemed like a pretty good, savvy baseball player.”
Buchholz knows, at this point in the season, it’s about getting his work in and being healthy. He stayed back because it was his day to start. There were about a dozen or so non-uniformed spectators watching his Sunday morning efforts. His next outing will be Saturday, the first night game at Fenway Park this season.
Technically, that makes him the Sox’ No. 5 starter. Most teams would jump at the chance to have a pitcher of Buchholz’s ability in that slot. Until he got hurt last season — missing more than three months on the DL with a neck and shoulder strain — he was among the game’s best, squarely in the Cy Young conversation, if not the leading candidate.
In that 12-game stretch, he said, he didn’t feel completely invincible, but it “was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a stretch of starts, being able to go out there and know — not hope or think — but know that I’m going to get the job done that day.”
But Buchholz, who finished last season 12-1 (1.74) in 16 starts, knows there are things he must accomplish before his name consistently can be mentioned with those of the game’s elite.
“Whenever I’m healthy and good out on the field, that’s how I feel. I feel like I should be involved in that conversation,” the righthander said. “But it’s been the ups and downs that I’ve had the last couple of years. I can’t expect to be a part of that trio of names. But that’s where I want to be and that’s where every starting pitcher wants to be. They want to be somebody that the guy behind them talks about and so it all boils down to being healthy.”
In two of the last three seasons, health has eluded him, as has the 200-innings mark. A benchmark for most pitchers, the closest he’s come in his career is 189⅓ in 2012, with a career-high 29 starts. Buchholz only got to 108⅓ last season, plus 20⅔ in the postseason. It’s a number that goes hand-in-hand with health.
“That’d mean that I made just about all my starts,” he said of reaching 200 innings. “Every starter that I know, that’s what they want to do. They want to get up and down as many times as they can, and by the time they get off the field let their team have a chance to win.”
It was in his final start of the season, Game 4 of the World Series against the Cardinals in St. Louis, that he learned something about himself. It wasn’t his best outing — just four innings — but it gave his team a chance to win. And it gave him a glimpse of his potential future.
“Obviously didn’t feel up to par as far as the body and everything,” he said. “But just noticing that there comes a point in my career where I’m not throwing 92, 93. I got to pitch in the World Series, two best teams in baseball going at it and had a lot of success doing that at 86-90 m.p.h. and just letting the ball move and work. So l think I learned more out of that start than I have out of any other one.”
Buchholz left Sunday afternoon to meet the team in Baltimore for Monday’s opener. His next outing will be under the lights in front of a full house.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”