BOSTON -- From the first pitch of the game you could tell this was not the same Clay Buchholz that we have seen all season. Going into Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Buchholz was sporting the highest ERA in the majors, a whopping 7.84. He had allowed 4 or more runs in 8 of his 9 starts this season, and a big part of that was that he had not started or ended games strong. Buchholz had allowed 27 earned runs combined in the first and last inning in which he appeared in his 9 starts this season (13.1 IP, 18.23 ERA), while allowing 16 earned runs in the middle frames (36.0 IP, 4.00 ERA).
But Buchholz was able to start strong Sunday, and he kept it going. Buchholz attacked the zone all game, starting from the first pitch, and he retired 9 of his first 10 batters. He had command of every pitch -- fastball, curveball, cutter and changeup -- his movement and velocity were great, and he was able to work hitters on both sides of the plate.
"I think the big thing was staying out of the middle of the plate for the most part; when I missed, I missed off either away or in," Buchholz said. "I felt like I was able to throw just about all of my pitches for strikes at some point during the game."
This was by far Buchholz's best outing of the year. He threw 7 innings, allowing 8 hits, 2 earned runs and 1 walk, and struck out 6 batters. He was able to bear down and get out of jams in both the 5th and 6th innings, getting Chris Gimenez and Ben Zobrist to ground into inning-ending double plays, respectively. Buchholz finished off his day by striking out Gimenez with 2 outs in the 7th inning, after giving up an RBI single to Will Rhymes.
One thing that has been talked about a lot this year is Buchholz pace of the game while he is on the mound. Most analysts believe pitchers are more effective when working faster, which could be a reason why Buchholz has not had the kind of season everyone was expecting from him.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Buchholz has been the slowest-working pitching in the big leagues this year, taking 26 seconds on average between pitches. The league average is 21 seconds. (All five Red Sox starting pitchers are in the top 7).
In the early going Sunday, Buchholz seemed to find a quick rhythm, but as the game went on he seemed to be taking longer and longer to deliver each pitch. Coincidentally, Buchholz seemed to become less effective as the game went on. Over the first 3 innings Buchholz allowed 0 runs on 2 hits, while striking out 2. Over his final 4 innings he allowed 2 runs, 6 hits, 1 walk and recorded 4 strikeouts.
When asked for his thoughts on trying to work quicker on the mound, Buchholz said, "I tried doing it in Baltimore by trying to get back on the mound regardless of what pitch I just threw and the result of that pitch." He also said he thinks it will help "keep my infielders on their toes. I have played in the field before and it is tough when you got a guy out there taking forever to throw each pitch. It sort of calmed me down a bit."
Sox manager Bobby Valentine felt encouraged by Buchholz's performance.
"Clay had a really good changeup, and his fastball was explosive. I was very encouraged, he looked good."
Valentine also said, "I thought he deserved a win today."
Unfortunately, closer Alfredo Aceves blew the save, taking the loss and hanging Buchholz with a no-decision. But if this is a sign of things to come from Buchholz, then Red Sox fans should be very excited about the rest of his season.