Commentary

Red Sox must find way without Clay

With Buchholz possibly out for season, other starters, bullpen need to step up

Updated: August 3, 2011, 9:25 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox have done well without pitcher Clay Buchholz since the right-hander has been on the disabled list (June 17) with a lower back injury. That will have to continue that for the rest of the 2011 schedule.

Buchholz has a stress fracture in his back and may miss the remainder of the season, a team source confirmed to ESPNBoston.com on Monday night.

[+] EnlargeClay Buchholz
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesAlthough the Red Sox are 25-14 since Clay Buchholz's last start, they'll be tested to keep that pace.

"We'll have the whole thing tomorrow," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said after a 9-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians. "We'll let [team physician Thomas Gill] draft a statement and explain it, and then I'll answer anything you guys want, but it'll be easy tomorrow and a little more informative."

At the time of the injury, Buchholz was 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 14 starts; without him in the rotation the Red Sox are 25-14. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have been solid all season, but Boston will need more than those two to stay atop the AL East and play deep into October.

Knowing Buchholz's injury was more serious than originally thought, general manager Theo Epstein went out and acquired lefty starter Erik Bedard from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline on Sunday.

"We've been without him for [nearly] two months now and we've done pretty well, but you can't replace him," Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of Buchholz. "He's a guy we need in the rotation. When he's in there, we're as good as anybody, but we've done a good job of filling those gaps and hopefully Erik comes in and fills that gap. [Tim Wakefield] has done a great job and [Andrew] Miller has done a great job. Guys have stepped up this year and our bullpen has done a great job too. We're looking forward to keep going."

Bedard will make his Red Sox debut on Thursday against the Indians at Fenway Park. Because of his recent trip to the DL with a knee injury, Bedard will be limited to 75-80 pitches.

If he's healthy and productive, Bedard could be the short-term answer.

Buchholz had an outstanding season in 2010 and was well on his way to adding to his success this season.

"Without Clay, we've had a good month without him, but we're a much better team with him in the rotation, no doubt," reliever Daniel Bard said. "We'll find a way, I guess."

A greater burden figures to fall on the bullpen, which has often bailed out the starters this season.

Boston's bullpen has been key this summer because it has multiple relievers who can pitch multiple innings effectively, including Matt Albers, Alfredo Aceves and Dan Wheeler. When the Sox hand the ball over with the lead to Bard in the eighth, then closer Jonathan Papelbon (24 saves) it's been pretty much a success story.

"We've had a good run over a couple of months," Bard said. "All those guys, you can hand them a lead after the fifth inning and they can go six and seven and protect the lead. It's not like you're handing it to a typical long guy. You're handing it to guys who want the ball and guys who have good stuff and can maintain the lead."

The other key in Buchholz's absence will be John Lackey.

He entered his 18th start of the season on Monday with a 9-8 record and ended up with a no-decision after working 6 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts.

He retired the first eight batters he faced before giving up a run in the third, another in the fourth and three in the sixth.

"I thought he was good. I thought he was sharp," Saltalamacchia said of Lackey. "A couple of pitches he left over the plate they were able to hit and they didn't miss pitches. But he was sharp. He used all his pitches and his velocity was good."

Buchholz appears to be gone for the season, so Bedard, the bullpen and Lackey need to make significant contributions the rest of the way.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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