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NICK CAFARDO I ON BASEBALL

This wasn’t the Clay Buchholz Red Sox were hoping to see

Clay Buchholz lasted only four innings in his first start of the season.
Clay Buchholz lasted only four innings in his first start of the season.RON SCHWANE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND — The most important thing the Red Sox must do from here on out is establish their starting rotation beyond David Price. Because if they fail to do so, the $217 million expenditure for Price will be moot.

Clay Buchholz had his first chance on Wednesday night to establish himself as the No. 2 starter and failed. Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello have their chances the next two nights.

Buchholz, for sure, didn’t quiet his critics in a 7-6 Red Sox loss to the Indians.

He might have settled down after allowing four first-inning runs, but the problem was just that — he allowed four first-inning runs and got the Red Sox off to such a poor start that it was looking impossible to recover, until Indians starter Carlos Carrasco had his own meltdown, allowing three homers.

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Buchholz was off the hook for the loss when the Sox’ offense came all the way back, and even led 6-5. That was before Mike Napoli took Junichi Tazawa deep in the seventh inning for the eventual winning run.

We likely didn’t expect a Price-like performance after the newly acquired lefthander struck out 10 over six innings and always seemed in control on Opening Day. But you don’t expect your No. 2 starter to allow four first-inning runs, either.

Buchholz’s performance did nothing to dispel the concern that the Red Sox’ rotation could be troubling beyond Price. But then again, it was Buchholz’s first time out.

John Farrell had very little patience with Buchholz. After he walked Jason Kipnis to start the fifth, Buchholz was yanked for Noe Ramirez. Buchholz had allowed a three-run homer to Carlos Santana in the first inning after allowing a single to Jose Ramirez, an RBI double to Kipnis, and a walk to Napoli. The home run came on a 3-and-1 pitch. Ramirez then doubled in Tyler Naquin with the fifth run in the second inning.

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Tough way for Buchholz to start a season — four innings, six hits, five earned runs, three walks, and four strikeouts — in which there will be a lot of focus on him from outing to outing. If anyone needed an impressive first start it was Buchholz, who needs to quiet the naysayers that insist he was not dependable. At least Buchholz wasn’t injured. And that’s certainly been an aggravating part of his résumé.

So, the perfect game plan in Game 1 was shattered by Game 2. The Red Sox had to go to their bullpen early as Noe Ramirez got out of the fifth by inducing a double-play grounder from Napoli and a line out from Santana.

Buchholz acknowledged his performance made it tough for the Red Sox to come back. It also put a strain on the bullpen. Again, it’s only two games. One start by Price was predictably good, and one start by Buchholz was bad.

“Had a couple of [base runners], and Santana, everybody knows what kind of damage he can do,” Buchholz said of the first inning. “I didn’t mean to leave that pitch over the middle. I tried to throw a fastball in and it leaked over the middle. He put some good wood on it. That’s what good hitters do, they make you pay when you make mistakes. I’ve got to keep the walks out. I have to work on command on a couple of pitches.”

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Buchholz, who is capable of pitching like an ace, added, “Most of it was fastball location. I threw some good offspeed pitches for first pitches and they had some good takes with a team that you think will go out there and swing early. I tried to get them to mishit some balls on changeups and curves early in the count. There were pitches that I wanted to throw that were balls where I usually get weak contact and some swings and misses, but they didn’t offer at them. It left me behind on the count for the most part and I had to throw strikes with the fastball that I wasn’t commanding all that well. That’s how it goes.”

Buchholz made reference to the game starting 12 minutes late because of afternoon rain.

“It was a little awkward with the game time delayed,” he said. “Other than the first inning, I felt pretty good. I had a couple of guys on and got out of a couple of jams. That first inning is what stands out. Take that away and we have a lot better chance of winning.”

Truer words were never spoken.

While Farrell praised the offense and its comeback, he noted the necessary early arrival of the bullpen. And while the bullpen for the most part did a decent job, there were a couple of mistakes, including Tazawa’s splitter that stayed over the middle of the plate for Napoli to devour.

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So, after two games, it’s been a mixed bag.

The lineup looks like it’s going to score, and it really is about the starting pitching. A thumbs up (Price). A thumbs down (Buchholz). And now someone other than Price has start to show consistency, dependability, and success.


Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.