Clay Buchholz is on one of his good runs. When he does this, he's like an ace. When he doesn't, he's a fourth or fifth starter.
Right now, the Red Sox have an ace, after he held down the Orioles in a 5-1 win Wednesday night. Buchholz needed to come out with a strong performance after Joe Kelly lasted only 3⅔ innings in a 6-4 loss to Baltimore Tuesday, and he did.
With Rick Porcello and Kelly struggling in the rotation, it's imperative that Buchholz leads the way. He did that on Wednesday night.
Buchholz's good run explains why teams are now sending scouts to watch his every start. On Wednesday night, one of those teams was the Pirates, who are looking for another starter. The Pirates don't often spend big money, but Buchholz would fit into a lot of teams' financial plans.
He makes $12 million this season, so there's about $6 million left, not a huge number for any team to pick up. He also has affordable team options of $13 million and $13.5 million for the next two seasons.
At 30, he's a pitcher contending teams now have on their wish lists, and you can understand why.
Yet he's also a very affordable option for the Red Sox for the future. So, why would they part with him? Right now, according to team sources, they have no intention of doing so.
Even though he would fit nicely with the Pirates, Twins, Royals, Astros, Rangers, Angels, Dodgers, Padres, or Tigers, he remains a Red Sox, and the expectation is he will stay in Boston.
But who knows what will happen on those hectic days before the July 31 trade deadline? Last season, the Red Sox traded Jon Lester and John Lackey. While it's impossible to determine where the Red Sox will be a month from now, if they continue on their current pace, even with an uptick in their play, they're a long shot to make the playoffs.
Will they be sellers, as they were at last year's deadline? Or is Buchholz an asset they'd like to build around given that Porcello hasn't lived up to expectations after receiving a four-year, $82.5 million extension, which begins next season?
The Red Sox are 32-41. A year ago, after 73 games they were 34-39. But they spiraled to 48-60 by July 30, then sold off some veteran assets.
When Buchholz is on and using all five of his pitches, he's very impressive. Scouts fall for him hook, line, and sinker because he exhibits the traits of an ace. It's just that the good times sometimes don't last as long as they should with someone of his talent.
Whether the Red Sox will deal him really depends on what their frustration level is with him at the time. Last season, the frustration level was high, but he was pitching so poorly (5-7 with a 5.87 ERA by the end of July) that there wasn't much interest.
Should they sell him off when he's pitching at his peak for the optimum return? We suggested dealing him for a haul of prospects that could be flipped or kept toward the acquisition of a consistent ace. But we're not sure the Red Sox are thinking that way at the moment.
In his last five starts, Buchholz is unbeaten (3-0). He's posted a 2.28 ERA in his last eight starts and no home runs in his last six starts.
Buchholz allowed eight hits over seven innings on Wednesday night but held the Orioles to one run, walked only one, and struck out seven.
He did some of his best work in the first inning, when the Orioles had two hits and a walk. Buchholz was helped by Manny Machado being caught stealing after his leadoff single up the middle, but with two on Buchholz got J.J. Hardy on a fielder's choice to end the inning.
The only run off Buchholz came in the sixth when Chris Parmelee doubled to left field and with one out Chris Davis singled to center field to knock him in.
"A lot of strikes, a constant mix of all of his pitches," summed up Red Sox manager John Farrell. "There wasn't one sequence where he didn't repeat. Started a number of guys off with a number of different pitches. It was a constant change of speeds. He's been very dependable for us, seven strong innings and good to see him put up a zero after we scored five. He led the way for us tonight."
Farrell believes Buchholz is pitching every bit as good as his great run early in 2013, before shoulder and neck issues sidelined him for two months. And then, Buchholz's 2014 was a bust.
"The percentage of strikes are extremely high every time he steps out there," said Farrell. "He has the uncanny ability to manipulate the baseball. He's in a solid run for us."
Buchholz said he had a good offspeed mix.
"I was able to throw changeups in big spots, able to use the cutter on both sides of the plate," he said. "They hit some balls hard, but the defense made the plays on them, so that helps."
Throwing 71 of his 100 pitches for strikes is something Buchholz would prefer to do every time out.
"When we wanted to elevate or throw a ball in the dirt, we got swings on those," he said. "Swings and misses at changeups down and curveballs down."
Buchholz isn't about to concern himself with being traded. All pitchers eventually have their names called in rumors. And really, the reason is because Buchholz is pitching well again, while the Red Sox are in last place.
We'll see if he remains a keeper, or whether the Sox will trade him at the height of his value.