In what has been a disappointing season so far, there has been one bright spot. One white hot, supernova bright spot. His name is Clay Buchholz. Buchholz pitched for Boston the other day, going 5 and 2 thirds innings, giving up a run on 4 hits, striking out 3 and walking 3. He earned a win for the Red Sox in Toronto. It was Buchs’ first major league appearance in 2009. I’m not quite ready to give up on the John Smoltz experiment just yet, but at 1-3, 6.31, I am close. Brad Penny is 6-4 with an ERA of 5.02 for the year. If the Red Sox are going to trade a starter, it better not be Buchholz. Clay has been dominant in the I.L. going 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA. He’s struck out 89 men in 99 innings. I sat down with Buchholz and we chatted about his season and career.
Buch- great outing for Boston. How did it feel?
“Oh, it felt good. I appreciate it too. It felt good to get up there and see the guys again. It felt like a couple of years, even since Spring Training was over. It was definitely a good spot for me to be in. I was pleased I got the invitation to pitch for Boston again. Hopefully it leads to more. Bigger and better things.”
When the invitation does come, does it catch you by surprise?
“It was a little bit of a surprise. It always seems to come after a rough outing. My last outing (with the PawSox) things didn’t go quite the way I wanted. I had just left the clubhouse and I wasn’t in the best mood when I got a call from RJ, telling me I should get back because he had to talk to me. It was weird because I was mad, then very excited. It was definitely a good thing. I’d like to be up there for more than just one start. I’m back here. With the starting staff they have, it’s a rough road to compete with. You gotta take what you get and hopefully, you get some more later.”
You used the word “appreciate” before. In what way?
“They (Boston) gave me a lot of opportunity last year. You can’t be trying to win a championship and develop your young pitchers at the same time. You’ve got to be able to go out there and know what you’re doing. The struggles came and I gave up on myself before they did. I don’t even think they gave up on me. They just had to do something different. I say “appreciate” because they gave me another opportunity to go up there and prove to myself and everybody that I can do it.”
How much “internal pressure” did you apply on the day of your start, and can you tell me about the hours leading up to the game?
“I didn’t think I’d be that nervous in Toronto. I think I was more nervous before that start than I was at any other point in my pro career. Even the whole “no-hitter thing”, I was nervous but at the same time you can’t control any of that. It was definitely a unique feeling going out there again and after almost a year layoff being on a Major League mound. I can’t really describe it, but after I threw the first pitch and the first strike, the feeling went away and I went back to pitching like I have been down here all year.”
You threw 17 of 24 first pitch strikes. How important was that to your success?
“That was the whole game. It was something I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. Throwing strikes without throwing it right over the plate, down the middle. You’ve got to throw a quality pitch. It’s one of the harder things to do. You start thinking about things and outguessing yourself. I thought- Alright, you’ve got two fastballs, a 2 seamer and a 4 seamer. I’ll use them as two different pitches, and I did.”
You worked with former Major League pitcher Bob Tewksbury over the winter. He is the Red Sox sports psychology coach. Now that you’ve implemented some of the things you learned from him, how do you feel they’ve worked?
“I owe him a lot for taking the time out. It was a situation where I was embarassed that I didn’t have the mental makeup that I needed to be successful. Being able to go out there and not get frustrated with every mistake, knowing it’s not the end of the world if I do make one, is big. We sat down and created a plan for me. Spring Training through the season and All Star break and through the rest of the season. Make a plan and stick to it. It’s worked out well so far.”
Did it feel like you were auditioning for the Blue Jays? And how do you put aside all the trade rumors?
“I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t cross my mind. I didn’t think about it while I was on the mound, but on the flight up there, I thought it made sense. My agent called me and assured me it wasn’t an audition. The Halladay trade rumor- He’s the best pitcher in baseball right now and teams would be stupid if they didn’t try to get him. It is what it is. If they trade me, they trade me. If they don’t, I want to be here for a long time. If things go well healthwise, I’ll be here a long time and it’s going to be fun.”
What was your comfort level with catcher Jason Varitek?
Great. We got into a routine last year calling for my best pitch, my changeup. I told him, Hey let’s throw some fastballs, get ’em over the plate. I’ll try to get ahead of the hitters and then go with some offspeed stuff. That’s what we did and then we switched it up in the middle of the game. It’s fun having a guy like that behind the plate. He studies the hitters for hours before the game and after the game. He knows what he wants to do. With him, all I have to do is throw the ball where he wants me to, and he’ll do the rest.”
Did you almost feel like you were re-auditioning for the Red Sox?
“It was weird because I know how much things have changed for me. Pitch efficiency and everything that goes along with it. I wanted to show them. I wanted them to see that I am not a fluke. I want them to know how well I throw the ball.”
Were you pleased with the praise from Mike Lowell, a consumate professional?
“It was awesome. I can’t imagine how bad it was last year, with the game slowing down to a crawl when I had runners on base. I was so worried about everything else, instead of just trying to get the hitters out. I just concentrated on getting the ball to the plate. If I needed to throw to first base, I did. It was really different for me this time.”
You had a “big head of lettuce” when you left McCoy. What’s up with the haircut?
“When they told me I was going up, I got my hair cut, but I wanted to keep it a little long in the back. They left it too long so I went back the next day and then she cut it too short. As long as it looked good on TV and I looked presentable, that’s all I can ask for.”
Buch- I don’t think Tito (Terry Francona) cares what your hair looks like as long as you keep pitching the way you did against Toronto.
“Thanks, Hydes. I appreciate it.”