It's impossible for a pitcher to carry the load for any team, mainly because playing once every five days doesn't have quite the same impact as that of a positional player. But for the Red Sox this season, there couldn't be a more important player than Clay Buchholz.
After starting the season by allowing five earned runs or more in each of his first six starts, Buchholz was able to find his comfort zone and fix the kinks in his delivery. There were some hiccups along the way, but since June 1, Buchholz has been more than just Boston's best pitcher. He's also been one of the best in all of baseball.
The start of June marked the transformation of Clay Buchholz, and the reemergence of the pitcher who finished sixth in the Cy Young voting in 2010. Buchholz's ERA over the past two-plus months has been astonishing and the location of his pitches has been near-pinpoint perfect.
In 10 starts since the beginning of June, Buchholz has allowed just 16 runs over 75 1/3 innings of work, which equates to an ERA of 1.91. So while his season ERA still looms in the low 4.00's — 4.24 to be exact — the numbers have clearly been skewed by his early-season turmoil.
More important than that may be the return of Buchholz's overpowering stuff as well as his durability. In his first 10 outings of the season, Buchholz struck out six batters or more just once — six on May 27 against the Rays. But he's now struck out six or more in six of his past 10 starts. But there's even more than that.
The soon-to-be 28-year-old — his birthday is Aug. 14 — right-hander is also lasting longer in outings as well, showing a return of the reliable pitcher leaned on in years past. After lasting at least six innings in half of his 10 starts prior to June, Buchholz has now gone six or more in each of his last 10 including pitching seven-plus in eight of those outings.
Bobby Valentine seems to understand the impact of Buchholz's transformation as well as his place on this team's rotation. And he was not shy in admitting it after Boston's 3-2 win on Friday.
"[Buchholz] looked like one the best pitchers in the league," Valentine said of Buchholz's two-hit domination. "He has for some time now."
The manager is obviously very confident in his starting ace and with more dominant performances like Friday, Valentine seems to think the Red Sox can still pull out a playoff spot.
"I'm still thinking that this is a division that we want to win," Valentine said prior to Friday night's game. And afterwards he followed up that sentiment by claiming "[this] is a good start."
Needless to say, but I'll say it anyways, Buchholz has been the star of this Red Sox staff for nearly three months now and his worth to the team only continues to grow. Clay has asserted himself as the ace of this staff through his consistent pitching and dominating stuff. But while he's slowly starting to be viewed as the No. 1 guy in Boston, it becomes more and more apparent all the time that Boston's constantly diminishing playoff hopes also rest on the right-hander's strong shoulder.
It's a lot of weight to carry for the 190-pound pitcher, but it's a load that Buchholz appears ready to handle.