TORONTO -- There's no such thing as "too little, too late" as far as Clay Buchholz is concerned. Even though the Red Sox are playing out the string and Buchholz's season has already been defined by his terrible start to 2012 (an 8.31 ERA over his first seven starts), that still doesn't stop the right-hander from doing everything he can to round into form for both the end of this year and into 2013.
"It's a shame it didn't happen at the beginning of the season when I wanted it to, or expected it to," Buchholz said. "That's why this game is humbling; you can go out there and feel great and give up six runs, or you can not have your best stuff and get through seven innings. I feel good about it but I wish the whole scenario was a little bit different for the team. We've still got three weeks left. We're got to get through it and make ourselves better, learn from it."
Since those first seven starts, however, Buchholz has quietly pitched up to preseason expectations, posting a 3.33 ERA and a 3-to-1 K/BB rate over his next 18 starts. That trend of quality continued on Saturday in Toronto when Buchholz allowed one earned run over seven innings against the Blue Jays, keeping the score close enough for Pedro Ciriaco to win things for the Sox with a ninth-inning double and a 3-2 result.
"Clay's been doing that for us all year," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "They're a good-hitting team so you have to mix your pitches and locate, and that's something he was able to do. Even when he missed he didn't miss by much, so he kept the ball around the plate and caused a lot of swings."
Buchholz entered Saturday's play on a four-game winless streak, a drought that could've been snapped were it not for the Jays' unearned run in the fifth inning. The Red Sox made two errors in the inning, the first of which (a muffed grounder for third baseman Pedro Ciriaco) eventually led to Toronto scoring the game-tying run on a sacrifice fly.
"Buchholz was great," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "He gave up the tainted runs. ... He threw the ball exceptionally well. Good fastball down, really good curve today and the split. They got an infield hit, stolen base and you saw the rest of it for the second run otherwise he'd probably have the victory.
"He's been pitching with confidence and all those pitches were working for him."
"It could've very easily been three runs there. It's what you work for in between outings because you know there will be bumps in the road most of the time," Buchholz said. "If you can find a way to get out of those situations and not give up 2-3 runs in an inning and give your team a chance to get back in there and give you some more runs, that's what you want to do."
Buchholz allowed four hits and tied a season high with five walks (one of which was intentional) in the game, which is why the right-hander wasn't entirely satisfied with his performance, saying that he felt he didn't hit the strike zone with enough consistency. Still, Buchholz felt he "got there as much as [he] needed to," and since he was able to keep his team in the game, he was satisfied.
That's all that the Red Sox can ask for from the 28-year-old, who has righted the ship enough that he has become one of the few certainties for the 2013 Red Sox. It's anyone's guess as to how next year's roster will shape up after this year's disastrous campaign, but while so many key players have struggled or been injured (or both), Boston can at least count on Buchholz to be a solid arm for the front half of next season's starting rotation.
For Buchholz's part, he's hoping his adjustments can stick.
"I've spent the second half of the season [keeping the score close] and not necessarily doing anything different, just pitching to my strengths and not giving in to hitters," Buchholz said. "That's where I'll lead off for them next year."