Thursday, August 21, 2008

That's All for Buchholz

At the end of the 2007 season, Clay Buchholz looked like the next young stud in line to become the ace of the Red Sox pitching staff. He looked sharp, confident, and dazzled the baseball world with a no-hitter. Red Sox fans were irritated that the Red Sox front office left him off of the playoff roster, but we were sure he'd be an important part of the 2008 playoff run.

That was then, this is now. Clay just has not been able to get it together this season, and I think a portion of that blame may lie with the Red Sox, but it is hard to say for sure. When Buchholz began to struggle a bit in June, they "invented" a fingernail issue that apparently required a trip to Pawtucket (coincidentally timed perfectly to open a roster spot for Bartolo Colon). While in Pawtucket, rather than just get some solid work in, they decided that Clay needed some tinkering. So, they went to work trying to alter his arm slot and perfect the mechanics of his fastball. Sometimes when you tinker with something too much, you simply make it worse. Remember when you'd get a pimple and you just couldn't help but pick at it, or when you'd get a mosquito bite and you just had to scratch it? These things feel right at first, but in the end, only make the problem worse.

Since Clay returned from his tuneup, he has been nothing more than a tremendous disappointment. Last night, the Red Sox staked Clay to a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the 2nd inning. A 4 run lead would normally cause a pitcher to relax, gain confidence, and go after batters with more determination and less caution. That was not the case for Clay who preceded to give back 3 runs in the bottom of the second inning. That, apparently, was enough to get Terry Francona nervous. In the 3rd inning, he hit the first batter, Melvin Mora, with a pitch, got Aubrey Huff to fly out, and then walked Luke Scott. So, runners on first and second, one out, and Clay had thrown 60 pitches. Interestingly enough, that was all Tito wanted to see. His vision of the future did not include Clay inducing an inning ending double play, or even any Dice-K-like magic to end the threat unscathed. Tito could only see further woes ahead, so he pulled the trigger early in the game and sent Clay to an early shower, a brief stop on his way to AA Portland.

Clay BuchholzMeanwhile, when Tito called in David Aardsma, he probably did not expect what he got either, as Aardsma finished up the mess Buchholz had started by allowing the first batter he faced, Ramon Hernandez, to hit a fatal 3 run home run. The score was now 7-4 in favor of the Orioles. The Red Sox managed to only score 6 runs by the end of the game, so this hit was truly the dagger that ended the game in the 3rd inning. Javier Lopez relieved Aardsma an inning later, and fared no better. The first three batters he faced went like this; single, walk, three run home run. At 10-4, this game was truly out of reach (This was not the Texas Rangers you know. Against Texas, this game would have been far from over).

Hideki OkajimaThe good news is that Hideki Okajima pitched two good innings, the 7th and 8th, only allowing one base runner on a walk. The bullpen simply does not look like they are ready for the playoffs yet. But, if Okajima can regain last year's form, having the Okajima-Papelbon one two punch at the end of games may be just enough to get them by.

Meanwhile, Josh Beckett is still day to day, the result of numbness in two fingers on his pitching hand. It appears the numbness stems from his elbow, which is mildly sore, supposedly due to sleeping on it funny. Yes, this worries me for now. A pinched nerve in an elbow could clear up over night, or could become a nagging problem. Tim Wakefield is recovering from shoulder soreness quite well. He claims he is now pain free and throwing well. He could be back for the upcoming Yankee series, which would help the Sox buy some time before determining what move they will make to back fill for Buchholz. I am guessing they are hoping that Bartolo Colon is declared ready just in time.

Also on the injury front, Jed Lowrie fans can revel in the news that Julio Lugo has run into a setback in his recovery, quite literally. While doing some running, he felt a pull in his healing quad muscle, and is back to square one. Lowrie can breathe a sigh of relief and continue showing the Sox that he is the shortstop of the future.

As the playoff race continues, the Sox lost an opportunity to inch closer to the Rays, who finally lost a game last night. The Yankees and Twins, however, both won their games. While we are not too worried about the Yankees (yet), the win by the Twins pulls them to within 1/2 a game of the Red Sox in the Wild Card race.

The Sox have the night off tonight, travelling up to Toronto. Does is make you nervous having the Sox face the Blue Jays (a team they have trouble beating this year) on the road (where they have been struggling for success all season)? Paul Byrd starts things off, and he did pitch reasonably well in his Sox debut. After Byrd, the reliable Jon Lester follows, with the mystical Dice-K to end the series. I'm certainly not expecting a sweep in Toronto (for either team) but I am hoping they can steal two wins in the series. Anything less will likely force a slip in the standings at a bad time of year to be slipping.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)


Peter N said...

Good early Friday morning, Rooster. Colon looked sharp last night pitching for Pawtucket, and he might get a rush ticket back to the big leagues if Timmy cannot pitch in the Yankee series. Josh will be fine (I hope!). I didn't hear the term "pinched nerve" used, I heard that he slept on his arm "fuuny" and he feels fine now. With the off days (one yesterday, one on Monday after we sweep the Jays), a fifth starter won't be needed until the end of the month. So we're OK, even though right now, the AL Wild Card race is tied. The Twinkies girlfriend is from central Minnesota, but she proudly wears her Red Sox gear to school (yes, she's still in college--good for me!)
Great post, and I ran a tribute to Yaz on my today post, his birthday.

Peter N said...

I meant "funny." Hey, it's early!

Suldog said...

It's looking a bit like injury-riddled seasons past. Too bad. I still think they'll make the playoffs without too much strain, but I don't see them doing much once there. We'll see.