ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Clay Buchholz has been a punch line and a punching bag for the better part of this Red Sox season. The higher his earned run average climbed, the louder came calls for him to be traded or even released.
"Clamoring" is what manager John Farrell referred to it as, and that was an apt choice of words.
Now, with 38 games left to play, Buchholz just may be one of the most important pitchers on the roster.
The righthander returned to the rotation Aug. 13. On Tuesday night, the 32-year-old will start again in place of Steven Wright, who remains on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.
Buchholz pitched 10⅓ innings in the first two starts, allowing four earned runs. He is 1-0 with a 3.48 earned run average in 10 games since the All-Star break. Opponents have hit .219 against him.
"This has been a strange year. I'll be the first one to say that," Buchholz said. "But here we are and I'm still pitching."
Buchholz has been pitching exclusively from the stretch and believes that has helped him mechanically. He has been able to stay back on the rubber and better balance his body. That has improved the action on his breaking pitches.
"More than anything it's confidence," Buchholz said. "You have a few good outings, and they start to run together. It feels good to be back starting, but I was pitching pretty well out of the 'pen, too."
Buchholz was 3-9 with a 5.91 ERA after a loss against the Angels on July 2. The Red Sox skipped his next start, then traded for Drew Pomeranz to take his spot in the rotation.
Buchholz did not pitch again until July 21, and that was in the ninth inning of a game the Sox were leading, 13-2.
"I kept wondering what would happen," he said. "I wanted to stay in Boston, but at the same time I wanted to pitch."
Buchholz tried to take a long view.
"Things change in this game," he said. "You see plenty of people get counted out, and then they come back. I've had some ups and downs in my career. This year was tough, but I knew it could change."
Wright is scheduled to throw in the bullpen Tuesday and return to the rotation Friday against the Royals. But Buchholz could remain a starter if Eduardo Rodriguez ends up on the disabled list. He missed his scheduled start Sunday with a hamstring strain.
"Whatever happens, I'll be ready to pitch," Buchholz said. "This time of the season, you just want to help win games however you can."
Rodriguez will pitch a three-inning simulated game Tuesday afternoon off the mound at Tropicana Field. The Sox hope that will lead to his returning to the rotation.
Rodriguez suffered what Farrell termed a "minor strain" to his left hamstring Aug. 16 in Baltimore. He was scheduled to start in Detroit on Sunday but was scratched the night before after admitting he did not have confidence in his ability to pitch.
"We need to test him at a more intense level when compared to just a normal bullpen," Farrell said. "More than anything, it's not so much to answer the physical side of it. It's for him to test it at a higher intensity and for him to gain some comfort mentally. That's the biggest thing."
Given Rodriguez's history of coming back slowly from injuries, the Sox are not looking beyond Tuesday.
"I want to be clear with him, let's focus on [Tuesday] . . . We'll slot you in when you're best and most ready for it," Farrell said.
Rodriguez will face some bench players in the simulated game.
Uehara closing in
Koji Uehara, who has not pitched since July 19 because of a torn pectoral muscle, will throw in the bullpen Tuesday. That would be the first time since the injury.
"Really positive step for him," Farrell said.
With minor league seasons ending Sept. 4, Uehara may not have time to go on a rehab assignment. But he could get by with a simulated game given his experience.
Groome gets going
Lefthander Jason Groome, the team's first-round draft pick in June, made his professional debut for the Gulf Coast League Sox in Fort Myers, Fla.
Groome, who turns 18 Tuesday, went two shutout innings against the GCL Rays. He allowed one hit and struck out three without a walk.
Groome, who was the 12th overall pick, hit 95 miles per hour with his fastball.
"It basically meant all the hard work finally paid off," Groome told the Globe's Alex Speier. "You're finally a pro now. After putting on the jersey, it's just a dream come true. I'm finally playing professional baseball . . . Wearing this shirt, I'm part of the Red Sox family. It's awesome."
Double the fun
David Ortiz doubled off the wall in center field in the first inning on Monday's 6-2 win over the Rays, his slide just beating the throw from Kevin Kiermaier. It was the 624th career double for Ortiz, tying him with Hall of Famer Hank Aaron for 10th all-time. It also gave him 40 doubles on the season and 70 extra-base hits . . . Andrew Benintendi had his first career home run and triple Sunday. The last Red Sox player to do that was Dwight Evans on Sept. 20, 1972, against Baltimore. Evans batted seventh that day. Luis Tiant was 0 for 3 but threw a four-hit shutout . . . Pablo Sandoval, out for the season recovering from shoulder surgery, is expected to join the team here Wednesday to be checked out by trainers. Sandoval has spent little time in Boston since the surgery was done in May. The Sox allowed him to rehab in Florida . . . General manager Mike Hazen and senior vice president of baseball operations joined president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski for this series.