DETROIT — Comerica Park was empty when Clay Buchholz threw a three-inning simulated game Sunday afternoon. But the righthander drew quite a crowd behind the batting cage.
Red Sox manager John Farrell kept a close eye on Buchholz, as did rotation mates FelixDoubront, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, and Brandon Workman. Dustin Pedroia was there, too, along with several other coaches.
Buchholz, on the disabled list, hasn’t pitched since May 27 with what the Red Sox said was a hyperextended left knee. But that was more of a convenient excuse to give Buchholz time to correct the flaws that led to his having a 7.02 earned run average and 1.98 WHIP.
That process took an important step with the simulated game. Buchholz threw 48 pitches to teammates Jonathan Herrera, Mike Napoli, and Shane Victorino and came away pleased with his progress.
“Everything was fine. Direction was good, the ball felt a lot better coming out of my hand,” he said.
Buchholz has been working the last two weeks on the mechanics of his delivery, especially his footwork. Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves felt Buchholz was rotating too much and throwing across his body. That led to poorly located pitches.
“It makes the arm late. Whenever I did it before, I was able to correct it the next pitch and not get an inning blown up. It was a lot better today,” Buchholz said.
The Red Sox have videotaped all of Buchholz’s pitches since he went on the disabled list to serve as a visual aid in self-correcting his mistakes on the mound.
“We’ve tried to simplify some checkpoints in his delivery and yet still work on some positive affirmations in other ways to get him to a place that’s more consistent with his delivery and more confident in what he’s going through,” Farrell said.
Buchholz spent three months on the disabled list with a shoulder injury last season. He pitched well after returning but believes he picked up some delivery flaws along the way.
“Last year, I had to figure out a way to throw . . . I’m sure that a couple of things in my delivery changed last year without even trying to,” he said. “Just human nature, something hurts you try to do it differently. I’m sure that followed me into spring training this year and it just took a little bit longer to get through it than I wanted it to.”
Along with fixing his mechanics, Buchholz said the key to finding a better rhythm is confidence.
“It’s knowing what pitch I’m going to throw, knowing how I’m going to throw it and where it’s going to go and trusting it’s going to move how I want it to,” he said. “That was natural last year.”
The Sox, Farrell said, haven’t decided what Buchholz will do next. It could be another simulated game or the start of a minor league rehabilitation assignment.
Because rehab assignments can last only a month for a pitcher, the Red Sox want to make sure Buchholz is ready to start that progression.
“We’ll kind of put our heads together on what the next step is for him. It’s going to be important to get him some game activity,” Farrell said.
Did Xander Bogaerts show impetuous youth in the ninth inning on Saturday night with an unorthodox steal of third base?
With the Sox trailing, 8-5, Bogaerts was at second base with one out when the Tigers rotated into a defensive shift against David Ortiz that left third base uncovered.
Before pitcher Joe Nathan could come set, Bogaerts took off for third base and just barely beat Nathan to the base. He elected not to slide and was safe by inches. The call stood after a replay and Bogaerts scored on a sacrifice fly by Ortiz.
“He was safe. You want to be adamant that if there’s any risk in advancing, you’ve got to have a feel that you’re going to be 100 percent successful,” Farrell said.
Bogaerts said he was watching third base coach Brian Butterfield and was encouraged to exploit the unsettled situation.
“I thought it was a good chance to get to third and give Papi a better chance to drive me in,” said Bogaerts, who has only one conventional stolen base this season. “I thought I could make it, but it was close.”
Bogaerts said he did not slide because he was worried Nathan, trailing the play, would be able to tag his arms as they went up.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. But Butter gave me the green light,” Bogaerts said. “I wanted to slide, but I got the tip of my toe on the base and held on.”
Victorino takes BP
Victorino took a few rounds of batting practice after facing Buchholz in the simulated game. But the true test for the right fielder will be how well he runs. He is on the disabled list for the second time this season with a strained right hamstring.
“Change of direction, that kind of thing. His lower half on running the bases and everything associated with defense,” Farrell said.
Counting spring training, Victorino has played in only 31 games this season and will need a minor league rehabilitation assignment before returning.
The Sox hope that could start by the end of this week.
Ortiz still second
Ortiz is second in the fan voting at designated hitter for the All-Star Game. He is 368,220 votes behind Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz. Pedroia trails Robinson Cano of the Mariners and Detroit’s Ian Kinsler at second base. A.J. Pierzynski is fourth among catchers.
Third baseman Will Middlebrooks took batting practice on the field for the first time since breaking his right index finger on May 16 . . . The Red Sox optioned outfielder Alex Hassan to Triple A Pawtucket when Napoli was activated off the disabled list. Hassan was 1 for 7 with a walk and five strikeouts in two games . . . Jake Peavy, who starts against Baltimore on Monday, flew ahead of the team so he could get a full night of sleep. Doubront headed back to Boston to prepare for his start for Pawtucket on Tuesday afternoon against Louisville. It will be the second of at least three injury rehabilitation starts for Doubront, who is out with a shoulder strain . . . Hitting coach Greg Colbrunn spent his fifth night at the Cleveland Clinic, where he is recovering from a brain hemorrhage suffered on Wednesday.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.