<
>

Clay Buchholz roughed up in spring training debut

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Clay Buchholz has spent most of the past decade in the big leagues. And for most of the past decade, he has come to spring training and repeated some variation of the same line as it relates to his goals for the upcoming season.

"Staying healthy," he said Sunday, "is probably the biggest one."

Here's the problem: Buchholz rarely makes it through a season healthy. The Boston Red Sox right-hander has missed at least three weeks, often longer, in each of the past six seasons. You can almost mark your calendar by it. If it's June or early July, Buchholz must be on the disabled list, a status he has occupied before the All-Star break every year since 2010.

Last season, it was July 10 when Buchholz trudged off the mound at Fenway Park with a strained elbow. He didn't appear in another game until Sunday in an otherwise uneventful exhibition against the Baltimore Orioles' stand-ins at JetBlue Park and, well, it didn't go very smoothly.

Buchholz faced 11 batters, none of whom were named Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters or J.J. Hardy. But seven of those no-name batters in the lineup reached base on three hits, three walks and an error by Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, which opened the door for three unearned runs.

Of the 42 pitches Buchholz threw, only 20 were strikes. He was lifted with one out in the second inning, having reached his pitch limit for his first spring outing.

But hey, at least he didn't get hurt.

"It felt like that was the first time out there in eight months or so," Buchholz said during the Red Sox's 8-7 victory. "Get the first one out of the way and then, in five days, do it again."

Wash, rinse, repeat.

At least Buchholz no longer must bear the burden of being the closest thing the Sox have to a No. 1 starter. That was the case last year. In the absence of a proven ace, Buchholz was the Opening Day starter and the leader of a rotation that had such a miserable April that pitching coach Juan Nieves was fired at the beginning of May.

But even though the Red Sox righted that wrong with the $217 million addition of David Price, Buchholz's importance shouldn't be diminished.

The club wasted little time exercising Buchholz's $13.5 million option when the offseason began. And in December, manager John Farrell pointed to the 31-year-old as a candidate to throw 200 innings, a prospect that made even the most optimistic fans double over with laughter but nevertheless was a sign of how much the Sox are counting on him.

Throughout his career, Buchholz has had stretches in which he has pitched as well as anyone in the majors. He was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA through his first 12 starts of 2013, a stretch that was nearly duplicated over 11 starts last season when he posted a 2.17 ERA.

But then, inevitably, injury strikes.

By now, Buchholz must be tired of the constant focus on his health. A list of his assorted injuries -- left hamstring strain in 2010, stress fracture of his lower back in 2011, esophagitis in 2012, a neck strain in 2013, a hyperextended left knee in 2014 and the elbow issue last season -- reads more like the script from an old episode of "ER."

"Over the last 9-10 years, I've found a way to not listen to [criticism] or worry about it," Buchholz said. "It's one of those things that, whenever you get hurt, it stinks to sit on the bench and watch your team go through bad stretches, go through good stretches. You want to be a part of it."

In his latest attempt to ward off more physical problems, Buchholz altered his offseason routine. He concentrated on doing more repetitions with heavier weights in an attempt to add more muscle to his string-bean frame. The Red Sox list him at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds.

"I feel better with that added weight now because I added it early in the offseason and it wasn't something that was new whenever I got here," Buchholz said. "Moving around and stuff, that's what I struggled with a couple years ago when I came into camp a little heavier. I just felt heavy on my feet and didn't feel very agile or athletic, but now I feel as normal as I ever have.

"If I make my starts on the day that my name is called, that will basically take care of all the numbers talk and innings and whatever you want to talk about from there. I feel like we already have a good club without me, but if I'm out there and I'm healthy and I'm throwing the ball well, I know that makes this team that much better."