Clay Buchholz’s struggles recall Josh Beckett era


In case you missed it over the long weekend: Josh Beckett is back. The burly Texan and former Red Sox ace threw the first no-hitter of the MLB season and first of his 14-year career. Following his 2012 departure from Boston and 2013 bout with thoracic outlet syndrome when it was unclear if he’d pitch again, Beckett looks like a big piece of the puzzle for the Dodgers in 2014.

In full disclosure, Beckett was my least favorite Red Sox during his tenure in Boston, almost from the jump. The 2006 season, when he clocked a 5.01 ERA and allowed 36 home runs on the heels of the Hanley Ramirez trade, was the first indication that, despite his All-World talent, he was destined to drive Red Sox fans crazy.

2007 was the one season when he brought his A-game from start to finish (I’ll ignore the May blisters) and hauled the Sox to a World Series championship. His effort and execution on the biggest stage weren’t lost on me and bought him a considerable amount of slack. But the following five seasons were a laundry list of injuries and unfulfilled expectations for the supposed anchor of the pitching staff on a Red Sox team built to win. As easily as Beckett made two All-Star teams during that time, he wilted down the stretch, flamed out in the playoffs, and was ineffective for chunks of time due to physical issues.

Another Texan with a decidedly different physique continues to frustrate Boston fans: Clay Buchholz. The wiry righty is the new Beckett. Incredible talent. The ability to carry a pitching staff for a period of time. But the heap of ailments and mechanical issues, even when “healthy,” continue to pile up. Despite their shared Texan lineage, Beckett and Buchholz are not pickup trucks as pitchers; they’re sports cars in constant need of a tune-up.

It came to a head Monday afternoon in Atlanta, as Buchholz walked eight, gave up four hits and yielded six earned runs in a measly three innings against the Braves. Unlike a number of his previous clunkers, the Sox were able to battle back and get the win to stop a 10-game skid. But Buchholz failed to log even five innings for the fifth time this season, taxing an already-weary bullpen.

While Beckett was affected by blisters and obliques and lats throughout his Red Sox career, he did average an acceptable 28.7 starts per season. Buchholz has yet to log 30 starts in a single year and has only twice cracked 20 since attempting to climb into the Boston rotation in 2008. And he’s labored through large swaths of terrain where his mechanics haven’t demonstrated a clean bill of health. Despite this, his Cy Young-level 2010 (17-7, a league-leading 187 ERA+) and Bob Gibson-like performance in a truncated 2013 (12-1, 1.74) stick in the minds of fans and the organization. There’s an ace in there somewhere.

Beckett made “ace” money in Boston; Buchholz hasn’t yet approached that territory with the Sox. He’s making $7.7 million this year and next year gets a bump to $12 million. The Sox have team options for 2016 and 2017. It’s almost certain Buchholz, with his spotty track record, won’t be in a Boston uniform by then. But what of the next 18 months?

As former BSI scribe Patrick Green pointed out yesterday:

Will he swallow his pride, head down the minors and attempt to figure things out? Will he get hurt while he’s down there? Is a young pitcher from the Red Sox system ready to step in and handle his innings?

There’s little value in trading Clay Buchholz right now, just as there was little value in unloading Josh Beckett on any team but the Dodgers. So he’s probably stuck here. Whether or not he’s able to contribute to a successful Red Sox campaign in 2014 or ’15 is highly questionable.

As Josh Beckett rises from the ashes to spin gems in Dodger blue, I cross my fingers that Beckett 2.0, Mr. Buchholz, can similarly be rescued. But at this point, I’m just exhausted.