About that Buchholz kid…

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz throws a pitch at Yankee Stadium in New York

Clay Buchholz dominated Triple-A this year. There’s no other way to put it. And yet, when he was recalled to finally take his place in the Red Sox rotation, it looked as if he was right back to being “Suckholz” of 2008.
He’s started six games now. His ERA is at a less-than-sparkling 4.45 (but solid) with a 1-3 record. In 32.1 innings, he’s struck out 20, walked 19 and given up 39 hits. It’s been a tight-rope balancing act. When your K/BB ratio is pretty much 1:1, you tend to not be a good major league player.
Despite consistently having to come out of the game due to his erratic fastball control and always on the precipice of complete and utter disaster, Buchholz has actually shown poise on the mound, minimizing the risks that he finds himself in. All too often, we would witness one small hit or walk snowball into a conflagration that resulted in Buchholz walking off the mound, head down in shame.
Daisuke Matsuzaka has been an unmitigated disaster so far this year. Brad Penny looks like he should have the stuff to contend for the NY Cy Young but is too interested in checking out the babes down third base before each pitch, which he throws with minimal effort. Tim Wakefield is hurt, and Justin Masterson is in Cleveland, having just entered their rotation.
At the trading deadline, Theo Epstein opened up both barrels for Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez, and came away empty-handed. He did so because he refused to give up one certain Mr. Buchholz.
At 24, Buchholz has certainly been part of some major growing pains after finding the majors to his liking in 2007. At 24, he’s still young. At 24, Buchholz finally looks like he’s starting to figure things out.
Can he be trusted in the playoffs? Ah… no. Should he stay in the rotation once Wakefield and Matsuzaka come back? Ah… no. But next year, when you have a vacant rotation spot (maybe two, depending on if Wakefield retires or not) Buchholz may make it easy for Theo to turn his nose up at the weak free agent market. (I will say that if we can get John Lackey, we should.)
The tough part about being a contender year in and year out is the inability to stick with your young players. There is a learning curve in the majors: it’s rare that someone pops up and dominates from day one like Albert Pujols.
Jon Lester needed time, and look where he is now. Johan Santana was a Rule-5 pick stuck in the bullpen and look where he is now. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee both had embarrassing seasons that resulted in demotions and look where they are now.
It’s a testament to the Red Sox’s handling of young players that has allowed Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and others to seamlessly become integral parts of a team — but yet still be allowed to experience growing pains in an environment that demands results and accountability.
This time two years later we may be chuckling at our displeasure at watching a kid grow into his role… or we’ll be bemoaning our chance at getting top value for him when we could have. That’s the fun part about baseball — you just don’t know.
But I do know that Buchholz’s numbers and ability are too high for the Sox to just give him away. They’re giving him every chance they can in the rotation, as they should. Buchholz is 10-20 pounds and one elusive fastball command away from emerging as our homegrown Josh Beckett.

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