TORONTO — Clay Buchholz has been a professional baseball player for 15 years now. He’s played for two World Series champions, thrown a no-hitter, and twice been an All-Star.
He’s also been stuck on a few last-place teams and dealt with more injuries than he cares to remember.
“Sometimes it feels like I’ve seen all this game has to offer,” the 35-year-old Toronto Blue Jays righthander said.
But Thursday night will be something different for Buchholz. He’ll be pitching against the Red Sox for the first time in his career.
Buchholz spent 10 seasons with the Sox and many of the hitters he faces will be old friends. He lingered on the field after the Blue Jays took batting practice on Wednesday to catch up with a few of them.
Christian Vazquez came over to give his old battery mate a hug. So did Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi.
Alex Cora, now the manager of the Sox, was the shortstop when Buchholz made his major league debut on Aug. 17, 2007 against the Angels. Cora had an RBI double off John Lackey in the first inning to help Buchholz get the win.
“There’s quite a few guys over there I know,” Buchholz said. “But pitching against them won’t be a big deal. A little weird, but that’s baseball. I’ve been gone from Boston a few years now. My job is to go out there and try to beat them. It’ll be a challenge and should be fun, too.”
Buchholz is 8-7 with a 3.47 earned run average in 26 starts since Dave Dombrowski traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2017 season.
He has made only eight starts for Toronto this year because of a shoulder injury that kept him out for 3½ months. He has allowed eight earned runs over 17⅔ innings since returning.
“I want to see him pitch. It’s been a while,” Cora said. “I’m glad that he’s still pitching.”
Cora compared Buchholz to Edwin Jackson, the 36-year-old righthander who keeps hanging in there year after year with different teams.
“Those guys, you see them when they were young,” Cora said. “For them to keep performing at this level is a testament to who they are. I’m glad that he’s still around. He’s a good teammate and has had a great career.”
Buchholz is scheduled for three more starts this season and hopes to make a good enough impression on the Jays — or another team — to get a shot for next season.
He’s not ready to give up what he loves doing.
“I definitely wanted to get back before the season ended to pitch a few games and see if I could open a gate to next season,” Buchholz said. “It’s no secret the game is trending toward younger players but I feel good physically and can help a team.”
Buchholz has averaged a modest 90 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball this season but still has a wide array of off-speed and breaking pitches.
At a time when pitchers increasingly rely on high fastballs and breaking balls in the dirt, Buchholz can work side to side and keep hitters off-balance.
“It seems like everybody’s weak point is that chest-high fastball,” Buchholz said. “The game has changed. You used to throw a low fastball to get guys out and if you missed upstairs it was a homer. Now you can’t miss low. But it will change in time; it always does.
“I’ll still take command over velocity. That’s a good way to pitch. Usually hitters come out swinging and that’s good for me because I can manipulate the ball and make it move.”
Buchholz said the biggest difference he has found since leaving Boston is the difference in expectations.
“Even when we didn’t have our best teams in Boston, there was pressure to win and when we didn’t, we heard about it,” he said. “I got to Philadelphia and they were talking about going .500 and that was different. I couldn’t understand that.”
Buchholz enjoys the artistry of pitching and being in a position to help younger teammates. He hopes to play at least another few years.
But there are some conditions to that. He wants a major league contract or at least a legitimate opportunity to make a team out of spring training. His days of pitching in the minors are over.
“I told my agent that,” Buchholz said. “I feel like I’m capable of pitching as well as I did five or six years ago. It’s not about money. It’s about considering myself a major league pitcher.”
If the only opportunity is the minors, Buchholz will go back to Texas and be a full-time dad to his four kids and work on his golf game. But however it plays out, he hopes to get back in the game in some capacity after he retires from playing.
“I still love it,” he said. “I feel like I’d have something to offer with all the different experiences I’ve had.”