Clay Buchholz’s Spring Dominance Another Sign That Red Sox’ Pitching Staff Looks Poised for Big Year

Clay BuchholzJon Lester is Boston’s Opening Day starter, and he’s the pitching staff’s incumbent leader. Clay Buchholz looks equally as motivated, though, and the Red Sox really couldn’t have asked for much more out of the duo this spring.

A day after Lester closed the book on his spring with another solid outing, Buchholz capped off his impressive preseason with four scoreless innings against the Twins. Buchholz walks away from this year’s Grapefruit League slate with a 0.79 ERA (two runs in 22 2/3 innings), 0.79 WHIP and .152 batting average against.

Buchholz looks focused, confident, healthy and poised to rebound in 2013, which should bode well for the Red Sox, who have received tremendous pitching since the start of camp.

What’s amazing is that as impressive as Buchholz’s spring numbers are, Lester’s are even better. Lester finished his spring with a 0.75 ERA (two runs in 24 innings), 0.50 WHIP and .101 batting average against. His ERA tops among pitchers with at least 15 innings, while Buchholz’s minuscule figure ranks second.

That’s the definition of a two-headed monster, and such effectiveness tends to have a trickle-down effect throughout the rest of the rotation. It’s certainly been the case this spring, with Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront and even John Lackey — who is returning after Tommy John surgery — looking sharp.

Entering Thursday, Boston’s starters led the majors with a 2.91 ERA (35 runs in 108 1/3 innings). The next best mark came from the Justin Verlander-led Tigers’ rotation, which posted a 3.46 mark. Red Sox starters also lead the majors this spring in opponent average and WHIP.

Boston’s bullpen has been great as well. After Buchholz departed on Thursday, four others – Joel Hanrahan, Koji Uehara, Alfredo Aceves and Jeremy Kehrt — turned in solid efforts in a 6-1 win over the Twins. Prior to Thursday’s victory, the Red Sox’ entire pitching staff ranked first in the majors in ERA (3.98), WHIP (1.27), opponent average (.246), opponent on-base percentage (.311) and opponent OPS (.709).

So what does all this mean? Well, in reality, nothing. It’s not as if these numbers are going to carry over or guarantee regular season success. But since we’re only six months removed from a season in which pitching proved to be the team’s Achilles’ heel, it’s hard not to be encouraged.

Manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves have been working hard in many areas, but they have really been focusing on getting the team’s pitchers to be more aggressive. First-pitch strikes have been a point of emphasis, and this year’s coaching staff really wants to see pitchers work at a faster pace than in year’s past.

The results have been great so far, and Lester and Buchholz are the two most prominent examples. Suddenly, it looks as if they’re pitching more against the opponent than against themselves, and that should have teams worried when the regular season kicks off.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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