When asked what he'd be thinking if he were in the shoes of recently traded Justin Masterson on Friday, Clay Buchholz expressed how he'd feel: "Relief, because it's over and you heard the news. And a little sorrow, too, knowing that the organization you've come up with and been with throughout your whole professional career is in the rearview mirror now."
But after Sunday's start against the Orioles, in which the 24-year-old Buchholz allowed nine hits and seven earned runs in just four-plus innings, there are plenty of Red Sox fans suddenly wishing it were Buchholz instead who had been sent to Cleveland at the deadline.
The right-hander was reportedly at the center of many of the Red Sox' trade deadline discussions. But based on Buchholz's performance both at Triple-A Pawtucket and with the big league club, GM Theo Epstein was reluctant to include the slender Texas native in deals for either Roy Halladay or Adrian Gonzalez. Buchholz was not dealt last week, and it looks as if Theo plans on sticking with him for the foreseeable future.
In 2007, Buchholz pitched a no-hitter in just his second major league start. He went 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA in four starts for the eventual World Series champs, striking out 22 in 22 2/3 innings and holding opposing batters to a .184 average.
Last year, though, was a different story. Despite breaking spring training with the big league club, Buchholz went just 2-9 in 15 starts for the Red Sox, posting a 6.75 ERA and a batting average against of .299.
After the fortunate no-decision on Sunday in Baltimore, Buchholz stands at 1-1 on the season with a 6.05 ERA after four major league starts. He's allowed 28 hits in 19 1/3 innings, has struck out 14 and walked 11 and is sporting a WHIP of 2.02. Batters are hitting a healthy .337 against him.
All in all, pretty poor. Especially on a team expected to compete for a division title.
"Thankfully, we scored 18 runs today," Buchholz said, "so it wasn't the worst day to give up seven runs in four innings. The team got a win. You can always be happy about that. But I expected a lot more out of myself today."
Believe me, Clay, you weren't the only one.
Do Epstein and manager Terry Francona need to stick with Buchholz until he pitches his way out of what's been a two-year big league slump? Is it time to send Buchholz back to Triple-A? Or should the Sox have given up on him entirely and dealt him when they had the chance?
The first option seems the most likely. Especially with Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka still on the DL and Brad Penny struggling of late, it makes sense to have another starting arm around. If it takes longer than expected for Wakefield to make his return, Buchholz, despite his struggles, will already be a somewhat established part of the rotation.
On the other hand, if Wake comes back and is ready to reclaim his spot, it's fair to say that Buchholz could stand a bit more fine-tuning in the minors, where he's already been named the International League's pitcher of the week twice in 2009. It's clear that he's struggled with his tempo on the mound, slowing his rhythm down significantly with runners on base. He's also admitted to having trouble pinpointing his fastball.
"[It's all about] the location of the pitches," Buchholz told NESN's Heidi Watney after Sunday's tilt. "If I locate the fastball on the plate where I want to throw it, it's a completely different outing, I think. But when you're not throwing it exactly where you want to throw it, your confidence sort of goes from it and you stay away from it till you have to throw it. There were a couple of times when I was behind in the count and I had to throw a fastball, and they either hit it or it was a ball because I was trying to be too perfect with it.
"[It was a] rocky start," he continued. "I've had 'em before. You've just gotta learn how to get 'em out of your head and move to the next one."
Of course, he may not get the chance, as an option back to the PawSox remains a distinct possibility.
Between the no-hitter, his myriad successes in the minors and his boatloads of promise for the future, Buchholz's trade value remains high … or at least it did until Friday. Maybe the deadline was the perfect time for Epstein to cash in his chips on Buchholz and use him to bring in a more seasoned starter like Halladay. It doesn't matter now, but the question could haunt the Red Sox' front office if the team doesn't make the playoffs or if Buchholz doesn't pan out over the next season or two.
But in the meantime, Buchholz will continue to do his best, not only to succeed on the mound, but to fit in with a veteran roster accustomed to winning.
"It's hard to be a significant part of the team when [the team has] so many older guys who have been a part of it for so much longer and established themselves," he said on Friday. "It puts a lot of pressure on the young guys to come up here and try to do everything as good as they can and play as well as they know they can play. Sometimes, it doesn't pan out that way.
"It's a lot harder game than everyone thinks it is. There's a lot of pressure built into it and a lot of situations you've never been in that you have to put yourself in and try to succeed to the best of your ability. It's a tough thing to do, but that's why a lot of guys get paid a lot of money to play this game. It's something you've got to work hard at every day."