Clay Buchholz came into the night desperately needing a stabilizing start after giving up a combined nine runs in his past two games. Red Sox manager John Farrell had a fairly straightforward checklist for the righthander: attack the strike zone early, keep base runners to a minimum, and stay out of trouble in the early innings.
Judging Buchholz’s work between starts, Farrell saw some positive takeaways.
“I think his stuff has continued to improve in terms of its action, the power to it,” Farrell said. “Now granted, we know that the first couple innings have been a challenge for him. So there’s been time spent, conversation about it. More than anything just minimize the base runners and the walks that have been mixed in the early innings.”
For two innings Friday night, it seemed as if Buchholz would check off the boxes on Farrell’s list. He worked out of a jam after giving up a leadoff double and a one-out walk in the first. He retired the side in order in the second.
But he still couldn’t avoid the blow-up inning that’s spoiled so many of his starts this season.
The Indians hammered out four runs in the third. Three of them came in the span of seven pitches.
Rajai Davis stroked a leadoff single to left, Carlos Santana took a four-pitch walk, and Jason Kipnis whipped a first-pitch fastball inside Pesky’s Pole for a three-run homer. That quickly, Buchholz’s start caved in on him in a Red Sox’ 4-2 loss.
It was the ninth homer Buchholz allowed this season. Seven of them have come with runners on.
“All in all, not a terrible outing,” he said after going six innings and holding the Indians to five hits. “But it’s hard to swallow getting beat on home runs every time out.”
Buchholz got into a seven-pitch battle with Francisco Lindor that ended in another walk, and with the way his season’s gone, that walk turned into a run when Jose Ramirez shot a sacrifice fly to center one batter later.
The four-run inning was all the damage the Indians did against Buchholz, and it was all they needed.
Big innings have become like Florida rain storms in the middle of Buchholz’s starts. They don’t last long, but you can set your watch to them. It was the fourth time in nine starts this season that Buchholz gave up at least four runs in a single frame.
The part that nagged at Buchholz was outside of the third inning, he kept the Indians in check.
“That’s the way it’s been going,” Buchholz said.
The Sox have dropped three of their last four games, but more tellingly, they lost again on a night when their offense wasn’t running laps around the bases.
They’ve have piled up the most runs in the majors this season, but they haven’t been able to win some lower scoring games.
This was the just 15th time in 42 games they’ve scored four runs or fewer. They’re 4-11 in those games.
A run manufactured around Mookie Betts’s leadoff double in the first and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s solo homer to start the second (which extended his hitting streak to 25 games, the longest by a Red Sox player since Dustin Pedroia’s 25-game streak in 2011) was the extent of the Sox offense.
Indians starter Corey Kluber, who also was in need of a bounce-back start, held the Sox to two runs on five hits in seven innings.
David Ortiz went 0 for 3. Hanley Ramirez went 1 for 4. Kluber leaned on his slider and cutter to keep the Sox off balance.
A seasonlong issue for Buchholz has been a fastball he hasn’t been able to count on. He’s throwing it just 39.7 percent of the time, the lowest rate of his career. He’s gotten just nine swings-and-misses on it in his nine starts. Teams are hitting .351 with a .558 slugging percentage, and 16 walks against his heater. He’s gotten just eight strikeouts with it.
He went to his fastball 43 times on Friday. The Indians didn’t swing and miss at any of them. Three of the five hits he gave up were on fastballs. It was the fourth time this season he didn’t get a swing-and-miss with his heater.
“It’s been the location that has plagued him,” Farrell said. “Recognize that there’s a high batting average against it. In those spots, whether it’s been first pitch or fastball counts, he hasn’t gotten away with a swing-and-miss or mis-hit. He settled in tonight where he was getting some of that, but in key moments, that’s where the fastball has kind of come back to bite him.”
Buchholz didn’t believe his fastball was a trouble spot.
“Who said I was having trouble with my fastball?” he said.
“My velocity is good on my fastball right now. I might miss, but I don’t think there’s a pitcher in the world that doesn’t miss location every now and then. It just seems like when I’m missing right now, I’m getting hit. That’s part of it.”
The loss dropped Buchholz to 2-4. It went in the books as his third quality start of the season, but he didn’t leave the ballpark feeling that way.
“I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me at all,” Buchholz said.
“I don’t feel sorry for myself. It’s a matter of getting through it, working through it and finding a way to get an out instead of give up a home run.”
Box score: Indians 4, Red Sox 2
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.