Red Sox Bring Buchholz Back After Elias Stumbles

Jun 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz (11) throws a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles in the seventh inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz (11) throws a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles in the seventh inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox are bringing back Clay Buchholz to the starting rotation, after Roenis Elias couldn’t get through five full innings of work.

Last night’s game against the Seattle Mariners was more than just one for the loss column. The night served as a mark of change throughout the American League East division. Attitudes changed and even division leaders changed.

By guaranteeing that Elias was going to start on Friday against the Mariners, one would have safely assumed that the Red Sox thought very highly about Elias, who was called up earlier this week. However, as Scott Lauber of ESPN stated, “It turns out, one start was enough” to change their minds. Elias went only four innings, allowing seven earned runs on seven hits, three walks, and two strikeouts. Two of those hits were for home runs. Out of 68 pitches, Elias only threw 37 for strikes.

A 54% strike rate isn’t going to cut it in the big leagues, but the Red Sox must have felt that the rate wasn’t going to get any better with another chance on the mound. Lauber reported that “[Elias] was optioned back to Triple-A Pawtucket before the door to the home clubhouse at Fenway Park was locked for the night. And now, the Sox will turn back to embattled right-hander Clay Buchholz to fill the final spot in the starting rotation.”

If the Red Sox didn’t seem desperate before, they sure seem that way now. The 31-year-old Buchholz has been much maligned as a starting pitcher ever since the end of the 2013 championship season. After being 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA, Buchholz underperformed in 2014 by going 8-11 with a 5.34 ERA, a huge dropoff. Not much changed in 2015, even though he was considered to be the ace of the rotation, as he went 7-7 with a 3.26 ERA before injuries kept him out for the rest of the regular season.

The Red Sox appeared to have finally seen enough of Buchholz after he went 3-6 with a 5.86 ERA, burying him in the bullpen a few weeks ago. Yet, recent issues with both the starting rotation and the relievers has Buchholz looking like just one cog in this broken-down pitching staff machine.

Lauber added, “The Red Sox have used six pitchers in the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation — Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly, Sean O’Sullivan, Henry Owens and Elias — and they have combined for a 7.18 ERA. So the Sox will cast their lonely eyes back to Buchholz in search of some stability.”

To give him at least some credit, Buchholz has thrown five scoreless innings in three relief appearances, including games against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles, two division rivals with high-powered offenses. He allowed only a combined two hits and two walks while striking out five batters.

The desperation also has much to do with the fact that the Red Sox have lost nine of their last 14 games. It has been a roller-coaster ride of a June that Boston now finds itself no longer just fighting with the Orioles for the top spot in the division. The Blue Jays have won four games in a row and are 8-4 in the past 10 games, making the pressure mount for the Red Sox to figure out their pitching woes quickly before the other two teams leave them in the proverbial dust, this summer.

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Buchholz has pitched well enough before to be an ace, but it has everything to do with his mental state. Maybe the time in the bullpen was a blessing in disguise, allowing him to build his confidence that he can shut out teams when he wants; however, five innings spread out over three appearances is a far cry from five straight innings in one start. When the going gets tough, with baserunners itching to make their way around the diamond, what will Buchholz think then?

And, it’s not like he’s the only one to worry about in the rotation. The original fifth starter, Steven Wright is the only Red Sox starter with an ERA under three runs. That list includes high-priced pitchers Rick Porcello and David Price. People may be upset with Buchholz’s performances, but it’s not like he was the only problem.

Maybe Buchholz should remember that, knowing that he isn’t the only one to disappoint. If anything, knowing that Price or Porcello could also just as easily be the ace of the rotation should take some of that mental pressure off of him. Buchholz now is only one of many pitchers being questioned in Boston. Not sure if that’s a good thing, but it may help Buchholz to relax on that mound.