Sitting alone in the dugout Wednesday night, soaking in another start that had come apart at the seams, Clay Buchholz hung his head low, nearly into his lap.
Thoughts of the five runs and nine hits he’d given up to the Blue Jays seemed to be consuming him.
After giving up 14 runs in his last three starts, he was grasping for answers. Repeatedly making good pitches was its own struggle. Then, whenever he makes a mistake, he pays for it.
Leeway has been scarce for Buchholz this season.
From the results on the mound to Buchholz’s body language once he’s left it, Red Sox manager John Farrell can tell the righthander’s confidence is suffering.
“He’s not in the most confident state, as we’ve seen,” Farrell said. “If you compare right now to this time last year, there’s some differences. Gradually, pitch by pitch — not to be cliché — but pitch by pitch, we have to rebuild that confidence.”
Immediately after the Sox’ 6-4 loss Wednesday, Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves started picking over film of Buchholz to find answers.
“It was Juan and I talking and looking at some things,” Farrell said.
They met again Thursday morning and pored over things some more. Then they met with Buchholz.
They all agree that there is nothing physically wrong with Buchholz. And Farrell has no plans to take him out of the rotation. He will make his next scheduled start Monday in Atlanta.
But they have to figure out a way for Buchholz to rediscover the player he was a year ago, when he went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA.
“We spent quite a bit of time here last night doing just that,” Farrell said. “There are some things that we need to work on from a delivery standpoint. Physically, there’s no complaints, there’s no restrictions. And yet, we’ve got to get him in a position in his delivery more consistently.”
Buchholz has struggled before, but it feels like lifetimes ago. In 2008, his first full season in the majors, he went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA and had to re-create himself as a pitcher.
Farrell Offers Thoughts on the Struggles of Clay Buchholz
“He went through a transformation, if you think back to the style of pitcher he was,” Farrell said. “He was a fly ball/strikeout pitcher. He evolved into more of a ground ball [pitcher], and the ground-ball rates bear that out.
“He became a much different pitcher through some physical adjustments to his delivery. The increased use of his two-seamer, the further development of his cutter, there were a number of things that took place at that time.”
The spell he’s in now, though, is different.
“Just from a delivery standpoint, it’s not a makeover as he went through at that point,” Farrell said. “But there’s adjustments that are needed.”
After all the film work, Farrell pinpointed some trouble spots.
“He’s not repeating his delivery right now,” Farrell said. “So when he’s making mistakes, he’s been up in the strike zone or he’s been in the middle of the plate, and last night, more than we’ve seen this season, he pitched behind in the count a lot. That’s again from lack of repeating of delivery as much as needed.”
The spades Buchholz has been used to playing when he gets in trouble are his off-speed pitches. He could use his curveball or his changeup to get out of jams. But when Buchholz has found himself in a tight spot this season, he has often leaned on his harder stuff.
“What we’re striving for is one of the two — curveball or changeup — to create some velocity separation and disrupt timing,” Farrell said. “Right now, when he’s pressed to make a pitch, he has gone to a pitch that’s been hard in velocity, whether it’s fastball or cutter.
“So we’ve got to get back to the point of being able to change speeds more consistently — and for strikes, not just to throw it for the sake of throwing it.”
Getting out of the funk will mean fixing problems both mechanical and mental.
“He knows he’s better,” Farrell said. “He’s disappointed in what’s taken place so far. There have been glimpses or there have been individual games where it’s been more Clay-like. But he knows he’s got to improve.”
Change in approach
After winning seven of 10 at the beginning of the month to climb above .500 for the first time since being 2-1, the Sox saw things unravel in their own ballpark while falling six games below .500.
The Sox hit .228 on the six-game homestand, getting outscored, 33-13.
“Obviously we’re a little frustrated,” Dustin Pedroia said. “We’ve got to play better and that’s it. We’re going to have to play one pitch at a time. We can’t start winning games and go, ‘Oh, we’re going to win 10 in a row.’ Now we’re going to win the next pitches. That’s how we’ve got to start thinking.”
What about Drew?
Stephen Drew’s minor league assignment is still being pinned down. Farrell said the Sox are weighing where to send him based on certain logistical details.
“We’re looking at schedules,” Farrell said. “We’re looking at who’s in certain cities, and until we get through the certain steps to get him to a minor league affiliate, we’ll lay that out at that time.”
Farrell was also weighing whether it would be beneficial to send Drew to a lower level to get back into a rhythm before moving him up to face better competition.
“All those things are being factored into this,” Farrell said.
With Drew’s minor league plans still up in the air, Farrell couldn’t say for certain whether he would travel with the Sox on the road swing through Tampa and Atlanta.
If Drew’s assignment started Friday, Farrell said, he would use the roster spot to add another reliever.
Drew hasn’t been in a true game situation since the World Series last October.
Napoli out of lineup
Mike Napoli is improving after sitting out Wednesday’s game with dehydration, but he was out of the lineup for a second straight day. “Still dealing with overall achiness and some nausea,” Farrell said. Mike Carp replaced him at first and hit seventh in the lineup . . . June 1994 was the only time in team history that the Red Sox lost every game in a six-game homestand. “It’s been a grind of late, as we know,” Farrell said. “I think overall, the at-bats have become more productive in general and yet there’s been some opportunities we haven’t cashed in on.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.