PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Like throwing a pebble into a placid pond, pitchers often say a small flaw in a delivery can have ripple effects that produce big problems.
Case in point, Clay Buchholz and his 2014 season.
In 50 innings before he was placed on the DL with a hyperextended knee on May 28, Buchholz allowed a whopping 24 walks and 75 hits -- or as many hits as he allowed in more than twice as many innings (108.1) in 2013.
His 7.02 ERA in 2014 is 3.2 higher than his career average (3.82), and more than four times the stellar 1.74 ERA he posted in 2013.
The Red Sox starter said he’s been putting himself in “position basically to fail from jump one” lately, but that he believes the flaws in his mechanics have been fixed.
“Things that I worked on, just try to go out there and execute them to the best of my ability,” he said of his goals for his stay in Triple-A. “That’s what this is used for, is to try to refine everything and get in a game situation. Triple-A and the big leagues isn’t that big of a difference as far as talent, just about everybody here has either gotten a taste of the big leagues or they’re on their way to getting there. It’s a good place to take a step in the right direction.”
Though the right-hander plans to spend as little time in Pawtucket as possible, Mother Nature refused to cooperate with those wishes Friday night, as his rehab outing was washed out. He’ll start the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday, instead, with first pitch scheduled for 5:05 p.m. Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, nursing a still-swollen index finger on his right hand, is expected to DH.
During his DL stay, Buchholz said he’s thrown several extended bullpen sessions (45-65 pitches) at higher-than-normal intensity and a simulated game, focusing on making the needed tweaks to his delivery.
“I’ve worked hard on it,” he said. “Right at the beginning of the stuff you’re trying to fix or change you have to think about it, that’s why the bullpens help out a lot. And when it becomes second nature, that’s when you bring it into a game and not have to think about it. That’s where I feel like I’m at right now.”
Though the DL stint is officially to heal his hyperextended knee, as much attention, if not more, has been paid to healing Buchholz’s psyche.
According to the man himself, there’s only one way to do that.
“Confidence comes from results,” he said. “That’s first and foremost. This whole game you’re judged off of results, even when people say that results don't matter sometimes. But it’s about winning games, and if you don’t win games it has to be pointed toward somebody. I wasn’t doing my job up there, putting the team in position to win games consistently. So that’s what this is about.
“The only way you’re gonna gain confidence is when you get back to that level and produce and have the results that you want,” he said.
He certainly wasn’t getting the results he wanted in Boston.
Opponents were hitting .339 against Buchholz in 2014, far and away the worst average he’s allowed in his career (second highest is .299 in 2008).
So when he faces the Charlotte Knights on Saturday, Buchholz won’t be treating the outing like a glorified spring training tuneup. He wants to see results, and quickly.
“Hopefully just one start,” he said, asked the timetable for returning to the big club. “I don’t have to build up arm strength. That’s usually what rehab assignments are for, is to go out and gradually build your arm strength. But I hadn’t stopped throwing. I’ve been throwing bullpens the whole time. I feel like the arm strength’s gotten even better just by playing long toss and the bullpens and everything.
“So if everything goes fine tomorrow and there’s no hiccups, I don’t see a reason why [I have to stay down] ... unless they just wanted me to throw another game. Hopefully this will be my only one.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.