Clay Buchholz is right. It’s not the way he would have mapped it out. But he knows it’s his fault, nobody else is to blame for his plight — a human yo-yo bouncing from bullpen to starter.
The fact he has to wait for an injury like Steven Wright’s to occur to get back in the rotation may be unsettling to him. We understand the emotional distress of that topsy-turvy existence, though a $13 million salary may act to soothe the situation.
Whether he performed good, bad, or ugly against the Padres Tuesday night, the point is he had his chances to rebuild himself into a starting pitcher. He has taken advantage of most of his chances and for that he should take a bow.
If Buchholz had shown any sign of coming out of his early slump, none of this would have happened. His demise opened the door for others, just as Wright’s injury opened the door for Buchholz again.
Wright was the guy who came out of the blue and carried this team early in the season. The Red Sox couldn’t have asked for more. He had a bumpy couple of starts before he pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the Dodgers Aug. 5. On Aug. 7th he found himself pinch running for David Ortiz, a move that many have criticized John Farrell for making.
Farrell made the final decision, but he didn’t act alone. The coaching staff was also on board with using Wright as a pinch runner in that situation. Wright wasn’t close to his next start. It really did come down to using a pitcher as a pinch runner because you don’t want to waste a reliever knowing you might need one. You can’t use a positional player because benches are so thin to begin with and you have to save them to pinch hit for the pitcher.
So it had to be a starting pitcher, who wasn’t going to pitch the next day, or who had just pitched the previous day. Wright was chosen and when he ventured too far off second base and the pitcher made a pick-off attempt, Wright strained his right shoulder trying to slide back into the second-base bag.
Ortiz needed to get off his feet after he stroked a pinch-hit single and wound up at second base in a three-run Red Sox sixth inning. Ortiz, who had left the previous game with stiffness, needed to come out with the Red Sox trailing, 6-5, in hopes a faster runner would score the tying run. Farrell had used most of his bench — Aaron Hill to pinch-hit for Brock Holt, Bryce Brentz came up to pinch-hit for David Price. When the pitching move was made, Farrell brought up Ortiz to pinch-hit for Brentz.
With Hanley Ramirez being saved for a late-inning pinch-hitting role and Sandy Leon the backup catcher that day, Farrell went against using a reliever to run. He wound up using Fernando Abad, Junichi Tazawa, and Clay Buchholz after going with Wright.
And when Wright got hurt, ended up on the disabled list, it was viewed as an incompetent move by the manager, even though, as we said, the coaching staff, including bench coach and top adviser Torey Lovullo were on board with it. It had to be a starter and Wright made the most sense since Rick Porcello was pitching the next game. Eduardo Rodriguez had pitched the previous game, but with his knee issues he wasn’t about to go out there.
Drew Pomeranz, because of his experience being a National League pitcher, might have been a better choice.
Pitchers have to be ready for hitting and running in interleague play. National League pitchers pinch-run when they have to. Yes, they are more used to running the bases than American League pitchers are, but running the bases and staying healthy shouldn’t be that hard.
It was for Wright.
His season is now in jeopardy as two starts after his DL stint and a visit for a second opinion, are demonstrating that the pinch-running decision was one very costly endeavor.
Ironically, Buchholz knows of Wright’s pain. On June 26, 2010, he pulled a hamstring after stroking his first major league hit in an interleague game in San Francisco while trying to go from first to second base. He missed more than a month. Up to that point everyone raved about Buchholz’s speed and how he could probably give Jacoby Ellsbury a run for his money as the fastest Red Sox. Well, not so much.
Wright wasn’t a horrible choice in that he’s no stranger to running. He probably does more of it than any other Red Sox pitcher.
But with the injury came opportunity for Buchholz. When Rodriguez went through his mild hamstring situation it was good to know that Buchholz was there. Then the decision was made to put Buchholz back in the bullpen to be used in higher leverage situations.
In the eighth inning of a 3-3 game vs. Tampa Bay on Aug. 30th, he allowed the game-winning homer to Evan Longoria. In his first use as the “eighth-inning” guy, Buchholz failed miserably.
So now it appears, Buchholz will have a good amount of time to take advantage of this new opportunity. If Buchholz is a smashing success, then the ridicule Farrell took for pinch running Wright will likely be distant memory. And if he doesn’t . . . Farrell’s decision will continue to be red meat for his detractors.