After banishment to the bullpen multiple times this season, Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz has earned the start in Game 3 of the ALDS.
Scott Lauber of ESPN tweeted the following:
The pitching matchup is scheduled to be Buchholz to host the Cleveland Indians, as the American League Divisional Series turns the setting to Fenway Park on Sunday, October 9th. Fellow righty Josh Tomlin will start for the Indians.
While Tomlin has stepped up in September for Cleveland, after a disaster-filled August, the story that afternoon will hinge on how Buchholz performs in his first postseason action since winning the 2013 World Series as the Red Sox ace. He only went 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA in two starts against the Indians in 2016.
Despite the well-documented woes that Buchholz has suffered for the last few seasons, he’s recently earned the respect to have this start come his way. Both of those starts against the Indians were at the beginning of this season, when many members of Red Sox Nation thought Buchholz would be traded or, at least, demoted to the bullpen. In September, Buchholz kept a steady keel to Boston’s ship, directing it along the way to the A.L. East division title, with a 3-0 record and a 3.14 ERA. A far cry from the 6.00 ERA that he posted in May, the last month in which Buchholz faced Cleveland.
In two games versus a hot New York Yankees team and one against a streaky Baltimore Orioles lineup that was still fighting for the divisional crown, Buchholz crowned himself the champ by only allowing a combined three runs while striking out 12 hitters and posting a .219 opposing batting average.
Those recent starts were not just given to him; Buchholz earned them through hard work in the bullpen. According to Ryan Hathaway of Boston.com, Buchholz “mustered a 1.07 ERA in his last six bullpen appearances in the middle of the summer.” While he didn’t earn 22 wins like Game 1 starter Rick Porcello or 17 wins like Game 2 starter David Price, Buchholz grinded out batters in the relief innings, throwing for 22.2 frames and allowed a mere .198 opposing batting average, second only to Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel (.152).
Red Sox manager John Farrell must have felt that the return of set-up reliever Koji Uehara was enough for Buchholz to be expendable in the bullpen, allowing for him to take back a spot in the starting rotation. Despite that decision, Uehara didn’t have as successful a time in relief as Buchholz, allowing a .200 average, even if that was in double the relief appearances.
The telling point in Farrell’s decision-making is that he has not named a Game 4 starter. With successful starter Steven Wright injured and young star pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez being inconsistent throughout the season, Farrell must have a great deal of trust in Buchholz, after he was the one who put him in the bullpen in the first place. If Buchholz can have a solid performance, redeeming himself against Cleveland, look to see him pitch again in the A.L.’s Championship Series. That is, if they make it there.