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Saturday, March 2, 2013
Takeaways: Sox 2, Twins 1; Buch debuts

By Gordon Edes

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where Clay Buchholz made it through his first formal spring exercise, Allen Webster brought the most heat on an unseasonably cool Florida day, and Shane Victorino and Alfredo Aceves prepared to leave camp for a little flag-waving -- Victorino for Team USA, Aceves for Team Mexico -- both playing in the World Baseball Classic.

Buchholz, with his first exhibition start having been delayed by a tweaked hamstring sustained in a fielding drill on the first official day of camp, ran up a high pitch count in Saturday's 2-1 Sox win over the Twins, throwing 40 pitches to register four outs before manager John Farrell pulled him with one out in the second. That's what happens when you go to a three-ball count on five different hitters, but for Buchholz, that was of far less import than the fact he was able to throw all three of his pitches, felt good doing so, and actually threw first-pitch strikes six times.

With camp running longer than usual because of the WBC, Buchholz will have plenty of time to refine his mechanics and his stuff. He can ill afford to start this season the way he did last, when he gave up five or more earned runs in each of his first six starts, and surrendered a whopping 10 home runs in just 32⅔ innings. Until he finally righted himself, Buchholz was turning every hitter he faced into a potential Hall of Famer, which is where a batting line of .343/.428/.613/1.041 would get a hitter. That's what everyone was hitting collectively against Buchholz into May.

"It's sad it had to take that long to get in the right form," Buchholz said of his awful start, "but I felt as good as anybody in the game for a 2½-to-3-month span [after that]. I was confident. The team was confident."

The numbers underscore why he had every reason to be confident. Over a span of 15 starts that took him through mid-August and a bout with esophagitis that sidelined him for three weeks, Buchholz's 2.69 ERA ranked 10th among big league starters with at least 75 innings, and he surrendered just eight home runs in 107 innings.

With the memory of his early-season struggles still fresh, Buchholz said he is determined to not measure his expectations by the numbers.

"If you're able to go deep into the game every time you go out there, that alone should take care of everything else," he said. "The numbers will come if you do everything right."

Buchholz had 13 starts in which he went at least seven innings and gave up three runs or fewer. That was the most on the staff, but 21 big league pitchers had more, led by Tampa Bay's David Price, who went 15-1 in 22 such starts. It's a great barometer of true ace status: The next five names on the list are R.A. Dickey and Clayton Kershaw, with 21 apiece, Felix Hernandez with 20, and Justin Verlander and Johnny Cueto with 19 apiece.

That's what a top-of-the-rotation starter does; it's what the Sox want to see more of from Buchholz and Jon Lester, who made 10 such starts in 2012.

* While the Boston media corps was engaged in clubhouse conversation with Victorino prior to his departure to join Team USA in Arizona, Webster registered a scintillating encore to his first appearance last Monday in Dunedin, touching 99 on the radar gun again while throwing three scoreless innings.

"You missed Webster?" Farrell said. "You missed the highlight of the day. Ask the umpires. It was an impressive performance."

But as with fellow newcomer Rubby De La Rosa, Farrell says the plan is for Webster to begin the season in the minors as well, assuming the five starters he has slotted in the rotation remain healthy. "Our rotation is spoken for," he said. But there is every reason to believe both pitchers will be called upon at some point this summer, and the early returns promise far better than run-of-the-mill call-ups.

* Aceves had a hefty workload, throwing 3⅔ innings and giving up a long home run to Justin Morneau that accounted for Minnesota's only run.

* Juan Carlos Linares hit an opposite-field home run to right, and Ryan Sweeney singled home the other Boston run.

* Jose De La Torre, who is leaving to pitch for Team Puerto Rico, which is scheduled to visit the Fort on Tuesday night to play the Sox, had a seven-pitch ninth inning, including two whiffs, for the save.