Thursday, March 7, 2013
Takeaways: Sox 12, Twins 5; Buch brisk
By Gordon Edes
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where if John Farrell has his way, the days of being able to write a novel, knit a sweater, or cook a five-course meal in the time it takes a Red Sox pitcher to release a pitch are about to come to an end. "Pick up the pace, man," is no longer a suggestion, but a mandate in Sox camp, which should warm Bud Selig's heart.
Bobby Valentine famously complained about it, calling out Josh Beckett from an ESPN broadcast booth during a Yankees-Sox game in 2011.
"That's a half hour added to this game of him standing around and us sitting around watching him do nothing," Valentine said on the air, words he later had to explain to Beckett after he was hired as Sox manager.
The key stat from Clay Buchholz's outing? He delivered in a matter of seconds, not minutes.
FanGraphs.com clocked Beckett in that game at an average of 40.3 seconds between pitches with runners on base, and 25 seconds with the bases empty. That season, Clay Buchholz, perhaps taking his cue from the purported leader of the staff, had an even slower average pace than Beckett -- 26.7 seconds to 26.2 -- according to the website, although the night Valentine called him out, Beckett was taking an average of 31.8 seconds per pitches.
Well, Beckett is in L.A. now, where the celebrities will probably appreciate the extra time for texting. Farrell, meanwhile, has pulled out the stopwatch to make his point to Buchholz, who was the model of brisk efficiency in three sharp innings of work during Thursday's 12-5 win over the Minnesota Twins in Hammond Stadium.
"We've tried to shorten down the number of time in between pitches," Farrell said. "Not so much speeding his delivery, but getting back up on the mound and delivering a pitch. It was noticeably different today."
The Sox timed Buchholz in his side sessions, urging him to cut his time between pitches to about 15 seconds. The rule, seldom if ever enforced, is 12 seconds between pitches when there are no runners on base, and common sense discretion on the part of the umpires with runners on.
Buchholz threw just eight pitches in his first inning, and eight in his last. In the second inning, the Twins put runners on the corners with singles, but Buchholz got out of it with a popup and a whiff. He threw 38 pitches in all, 31 for strikes, struck out four while walking no one, and acknowledged that when he's commanding the strike zone, he likes the faster tempo.
"We tried to make it a point, even when I miss with a pitch, to get the ball and get back on the mound and regroup and go from there rather than taking my time and thinking about it," Buchholz said.
If he keeps this up, we'll all be home before "Letterman." It probably helps Buchholz that John Lackey and newcomer Ryan Dempster, the reigning elders on the staff, both like to work quickly, models to be emulated.
"Today I felt like I had pretty good command of everything I threw," Buchholz said. "I threw everything. I've thrown everything in both starts, I was just more on point with it today. I was able to throw some curveballs back to back ... [some] cutters, fastballs and a couple of changeups."
Daniel Bard seemed to have the baseball doing what he wanted Thursday.
* Daniel Bard hadn't pitched in a game since Feb. 25, the Sox electing instead to work on improving the length and direction of his stride in side sessions. As with Buchholz, the lessons appear to have taken -- at least on the first pop quiz -- with Bard retiring all three batters he faced and with perhaps his best velocity in months.
"Very encouraging," Farrell said. "He stayed behind a lot of fastballs. Improved command, improved velocity. A very good day for him.
"I think he was probably 95-97 [mph], which might be the best velocity he's shown in a little over a year. But I think setting aside the velocity, just the way he repeated his delivery was the most important thing."
* Mike Napoli hit his third home run of the spring, a three-run shot over the left-field fence. Along with Dustin Pedroia's double, it keyed a five-run fifth off Twins reliever Caleb Thielbar, the Sox opening an 8-0 lead.
Napoli's power this spring elicited this comparison from Buchholz:
"I said to somebody the other day, he's sort of built for Fenway like Jason Bay," Buchholz said. "It's fun to watch."
Bay hit 45 home runs in the 200 games he played for the Sox in 2008 and 2009. He's hit a total of 26 in the three seasons since. He's with the Mariners now, trying to win a spot.
* Drew Sutton, trying to win a spot as a bench player, had two hits, including a double lost in the sun, and had a clean day at third base.
* Outfielder Ryan Sweeney, in the running for a backup outfield job a year after he was playing regularly, threw Jeff Clement out at the plate from right field.
* And last, but certainly not least, rookie pitcher Allen Webster put on another show, striking out five batters in three innings. Webster was touched for a run on a triple that Jackie Bradley Jr. nearly speared with a diving attempt, and a single, but again featured a terrific changeup to complement his fastball.
"Today he threw a couple of curveballs he hadn't thrown yet, but when he has that kind of velocity and uses his changeup to right-handed hitters, it opens up a number of ways to attack a right-handed hitter," Farrell said. "He's shown very good mound presence and poise, and that was again the case today.
"Some good sliders early in the count, some swing and miss to some, and then he threw a strike to a left-hander with the curveball, and he's been impressive every time he's walked to the mound, as we've said. He has three different types of putaway pitches. He's got a bright future."