Red Sox Should Keep Clay Buchholz on a Short Leash

So we got to see what 2015 Clay Buchholz looked like against a lineup that is not the Philadelphia Phillies.


Most people were reasonable enough not to get themselves pumped up by Clay Buchholz’s Opening Day start in Philadelphia. In his first start of the season, Buchholz went seven strong innings, striking out nine while walking just one and allowing just three hits and zero earned runs.

However, given the state of the Phillies’ lineup, most fans understood that it was too early to let the Buchholz hype train leave the station. In his second start of the season, he imploded in a Sunday Night Baseball match-up against a Yankees lineup that was batting under .2oo as a team entering the game. Buchholz went just 3.1 innings and allowed a career-high 10 runs en route to a 14-4 shelling at Yankee Stadium.

But this is what Clay Buchholz has been throughout his career: a polarizing pitcher who sometimes looks like an ace, and other times doesn’t look like he belongs in a Major League rotation. I thought Tim Britton of the Providence Journal hit the nail on the head in his recap:

The Red Sox don’t need Buchholz to be an ace. They do need him to be competent on a consistent basis… Buchholz has allowed six runs or more in eight of his 30 starts since the beginning of last season — tied for the most in baseball over that stretch. Essentially, a quarter of his starts have been non-competitive.

Thanks to a strong start to the season that has them tied atop the American League East next to the revamped Blue Jays, this bleak point was just a faint blemish in what was otherwise a very promising opening week. This early success was thanks in no small part to the new look rotation, and if Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley, and Joe Kelly continue to deliver quality starts, the Red Sox can afford to let Buchholz continue his roller coaster of highs and lows.

But what happens if someone like Masterson starts to revert to his 2014 form? If the Red Sox rotation behind Buchholz isn’t rock solid, then the whole foundation crumbles, no matter how many runs the offense is scoring. Games like that are just demoralizing to the entire clubhouse and overshadow the bright performances of free agent signings Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, as well as a resurgent Xander Bogaerts who topped off his torrid weekend by going 2-4, raising his batting average to .407.

To me, the most disheartening moment of the night was Buchholz himself giving up. I don’t mean to make light of the frustration Buchholz must have been feeling Sunday night, but part of being a professional is continuing to do your job in a crisis situation. Buchholz brought back the body language he displayed in 2014 that ripped at the hearts of fans, and even neglected to back up throws to his teammates as the hit parade continued. This type of attitude is toxic to a team trying to cultivate the positive culture that led to a 2013 World Series Championship.

The big question is whether last night’s start was simply a rough outing for the 30-year-old or an indicator of what can be expected from him this season. Clay Buchholz has always flashed great talent but there are still those who firmly assert that he will never be able to sustain success. If Buchholz has another disastrous start, the best thing might be to shut him down with a DL-stint and let one of the three lefty starters in Pawtucket make a start.

Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez all dazzled in their first starts. The best candidate may be the newly acquired Eduardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez is already on the 40-man roster and has the highest upside of the three prospects. In his first start of the season with the PawSox, Rodriguez went 5.2 innings while allowing five hits, one earned run and striking out four. Perhaps most promisingly, he didn’t allow a walk and was throwing his fastball at 95+ MPH.

Johnson and Owens also posted strong starts although neither pitcher is on the 40-man roster. Johnson struck out six hitters in 5 innings of work while allowing four hits and one run, while Owens went 6.1 innings striking out 4, and also allowing only one run. But Owens did walk four batters, a concerning number for the lefty with command inconsistencies. The team could consider adding the seemingly major league ready Johnson to the 40 man roster and give him a start sometime soon too.

The Red Sox have plenty of pitching depth ready to supplant Buchholz in the rotation and if he continues to struggle, they will be nipping at his heels for a rotation spot before long.

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