Every so often, when Clay Buchholz glanced at the scoreboard for the speed of the pitch he just threw, he got a small reward.
In the first inning, he set up Oakland A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson with a 93-mile-per-hour fastball before fanning him with a cutter.
In the second, he got A’s outfielder Josh Reddick to fly out to left with a 91-m.p.h heater.
In the third, he froze A’s second baseman Eric Sogard with a 92-m.p.h fastball, up and in.
“I looked up there a couple times and it was 91, 92 to 94,” Buchholz said.
In each of his six starts this season, Buchholz has been arduously building back the arm strength he’s accustomed to.
Seeing the numbers flash on the board over the course of his 6⅓ innings of work in the Red Sox’ 7-1 win over the A’s Friday night was validation.
“I felt good,” Buchholz said. “It’s been a process in between the last start to this start. As far as arm strength and everything, it seems to be coming along pretty well. I think that was the last phase that I was getting through was getting the arm strength fully back and trusting the pitches as I throw them.”
The three hits and one run Buchholz allowed were both season lows. He threw 65 of his 110 pitches for strikes, leaning on his cutter and mixing in his changeup and curveball. He stacked another building block on top of the seven-inning, three-run effort in his start against the Blue Jays last week.
“I would say it’s a continuation of the final three innings in Toronto,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “Each pitch had definition. His curveball had good depth. Hs cutter had power and some added tilt to it. He’s just put himself in a better position in his delivery to execute pitches. He’s on a little bit of a run here.”
The success he’s had in recent years in Toronto made it a logical place for a stepping-stone after giving up six runs in 2⅓ innings to Baltimore on April 21.
“Velocity was up in Toronto,” Buchholz said. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve pitched well there. So I felt like that was a good starting point for me to be out there and feel comfortable with everything. I feel good pitching there — I don’t know why — but yeah, that was a good starting point for me.”
In between starts, Buchholz said his focus was on tempo, slowing his motion down with each pitch.
“It’s something different because I’ve always felt like once I start my delivery everything’s pretty good, but this year it was a noticeable difference than last year . . . just a lot slower,” Buchholz said. “So I tried to pick that up and was able to grasp it a little bit better today.
“It feels a little bit more free. That’s what I’ve worked on the last eight, 10 days and it seems to be paying off.”
As positive a sign as it is to see his fastball pop, Buchholz said he’s still a pitcher that relies more on movement, which is why the cutter was so effective. He threw 28 of 47 cutters for strikes.
“It was the best one I’ve had all year,” Buchholz said. “I messed around with a couple of different grips and basically got back to square one with it.”
For the first time since last September against the Yankees, Buchholz held a team to one run or less.
“You could tell he had good stuff by the swings they were taking,” Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “That’s Clay. You’ve seen it before. When he gets rolling, we’re going to get solid innings out of him every time.”
After improving to 2-2, Buchholz felt like he took a significant step forward.
“I feel really close with everything,” he said.