Red Sox: Can Clay Buchholz Be The Answer?

Aug 18, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz (11) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz (11) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Clay Buchholz, the once prodigal son of the Boston Red Sox, has pitched very well. Is he now the answer to prayers in the bullpen or the starting rotation?

With all of the Jonathan Papelbon rumors flying around, one may have missed Buchholz’s bid for his own redemption. The 32-year-old righty held the Detroit Tigers to only a single run on six hits and three strikeouts in six straight innings, in his second start since replacing the injured Steven Wright. Not too much pressure, right? Buchholz, who seemingly would mentally break down on the mound for most of this season, had to fill in for Boston’s knuckleballer who has 13 wins and a team-leading 3.01 ERA. Not a problem for Buchholz and his 5.95 ERA, apparently.

As a reliever, Buchholz dealt with his banishment to the bullpen very well. In 19.2 innings, Buchholz has kept opposing batters to hitting a .186 average, second only to closer Craig Kimbrel‘s .159 in 39 innings. In fact, Buchholz has been so hot out of the pen that he’s allowed only four runs in his last eight relief appearances, 10.1 innings. Three of those runs came in one game, back on July 23rd.

Those numbers beg the question: what is Red Sox manager John Farrell to do with Buchholz?

A month ago, it looked like Buchholz couldn’t get out of town fast enough. Buchholz was in limbo, being dumped into the bullpen, losing his spot in the rotation for the second time this season. Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox president of baseball operations, had just made the move to pick up reliever Brad Ziegler, making Buchholz seemingly superfluous. The only chance that Buchholz had in seeing the field was for mop-up duty, if the Red Sox stretched out to big leads.

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During that time, Jen McCaffrey of

reported Dombrowski saying, “‘Right now [Buchholz is] in our pen and protecting us as we go forward with the five starters […] He’s a real good protection for us.’”

Who knew that Dombrowski would be proved right?

Kyle Beery of stated yesterday, “Once Wright recovers fully, Farrell may be in a bit of a dilemma in choosing between using Buchholz as a starter to give his rotation some extra rest during the rigors of the long season or relying on Buchholz as a reliever.” Beery added Farrell’s own thoughts on the matter: “The way Clay’s throwing out of the bullpen, if he’s not in the rotation, he’s a guy we’re going to be leaning on in the bullpen, too.”

With Wright, Rick Porcello, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez, adding Buchholz for a six-man rotation may be a nice change of pace with minimal risk of failure. As long as Buchholz can keep it up. Porcello earned his 17th win of the season last night, earning the proverbial comeback-of-the-year badge with his 3.22 ERA. Young Pomeranz has allowed only two runs or less in each of his last three starts. And, Big Money Price held the Balitmore Orioles to a single run in six innings last Wednesday, looking to get on a roll by winning his second start in a row.

Rodriguez pitched very well in his last two starts, holding the opposition to a run on three hits in 11 innings. He was pulled from the game four days ago in the fifth inning, due to a sore left hamstring, but “Rodriguez is in line to start Sunday’s series finale in Detroit after throwing a successful bullpen session Friday,” according to Farrell.

A six-man rotation may be a great idea, if it wasn’t for the relievers, not named Buchholz, looking like they couldn’t stop water draining from a bathtub. One can’t exactly use the stopper named Kimbrel if the Red Sox relievers allow the flood gates to open before the ninth inning.

For the season, Boston’s bullpen has posted a 3.92 ERA, good enough for 18th place out of 30 teams in the majors. Even with Kimbrel’s 21 saves in 23 opportunities, the relievers have earned a 4.23 ERA in the seventh inning or later, putting them 22nd overall.

Remember that game two days ago? The one that Buchholz was cruising for six innings, despite all of the well-documented distractions? Remember Junichi Tazawa coming in as relief? Was it relief for the Tigers? Tazawa gave up three earned runs on three hits, without even recording a single out, and handed Detroit the victory in the eighth inning.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, this poor performance has been more of a regular occurrence than Boston has liked, this season. If Buchholz could continue his success for many of the middle frames, combined with his arm being used to pitching multiple innings, he could just hand the ball off to Kimbrel in the ninth. Literally, cutting out the middle men.

Next: Red Sox Rick Porcello Returns To Comerica Park

Before any of those Buchholz haters starts throwing pitchforks at these words, just think about what Buchholz has done for the team in recent weeks. He only has one loss, whether by being a starter or reliever, in his last 11 appearances. For 12.2 innings, in the month of August, Buchholz has allowed only four runs, three of them in one game. He’s only allowed two home runs in two months. Buchholz may not be pitching perfectly, but he’s not collapsing as many fans expected him to do. Instead of him being a problem child who needed to be traded, Buchholz may be the glue that can keep this team together. Scary, eh?