Clay Buchholz’s Uncharacteristic Hot Start a Symbol of Just How Special Pitcher’s Season Could Be

Clay BuchholzBOSTON — April wasn’t kind to Clay Buchholz the past couple of years. But it’s been very cooperative this trip through the calendar.

Buchholz turned in another solid outing Thursday, working into the eighth inning while holding the Astros to just two runs. He struck out 10 in his 7 2/3 innings of work, and the right-hander is now 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA to begin the season.

Buchholz’s hot start is a continuation of the momentum he established during spring training, and given his raw talent, perhaps we shouldn’t be too shocked by this April’s developments. Buchholz has been a notoriously slow starter, though, which makes the recent stretch all the more impressive.

Buchholz, who finished last season with an 11-8 record and a 4.56 ERA, struggled out of the gate in 2012. He went seven innings just once in his first nine starts, and he didn’t strike out more than five batters in any game during that span.

In 2011, Buchholz didn’t pitch seven or more innings until his eighth start. He racked up no more than six strikeouts during any of his starts in that period.

Overall, Buchholz went 3-1 with an 8.69 ERA in five April starts in 2012, and he went 1-3 with a 5.33 ERA in five April starts in 2011.

This season, Buchholz has fared far better. He has gone at least seven frames in all five of his starts, and he has struck out six or more in four starts. He has had double-digit K totals in two starts, including Thursday’s, and one could argue he’s been the most dominant pitcher in baseball through the first three and a half weeks.

Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Thursday’s game that Buchholz’s ability to throw four pitches for strikes has been critical to the pitcher’s early-season success, and the skipper feels that he’s watching a much more mature pitcher overall.

“He’s done a very good job of pitching ahead in the count, most of all. It’s allowed him to pitch to a scouting report and exploit some holes of given hitters,” Farrell said. “I think just that maturity and the game slowing down for him, and when he’s on the mound, the fact that he’s got things under control, I think you’re more readily able to see the swings that are taking place at the plate and attack accordingly.”

Buchholz has allowed just five earned runs in 37 2/3 innings, and his 1.19 ERA is the lowest by a Red Sox pitcher through his first five starts since Roger Clemens posted a 0.66 mark to begin the season in 1991. In fact, Buchholz is only the third Boston hurler to hold opponents to two runs or fewer over at least seven innings in each of his first five starts since 1920.

Numbers aside, it’s what the consistency has meant to the rest of the Red Sox’ staff that’s important.

“He gave us what we needed,” Farrell said of Thursday’s start, “and that was a night to go deep into the game by a starter to give our back end guys a night of rest, and the offense just gave us enough support to get through it, so a very solid outing from Clay once again.”

Whenever a starter can work deep into a ballgame, it makes life a whole lot easier for the bullpen. The Red Sox saw last season how ugly things can get when starters consistently turn in short outings, and fortunately for Boston, this season looks like a different story.

Whether it’s maturity, better command over his entire repertoire or simply a matter of pitching with confidence, Buchholz has been in complete control. The fact that the success has come earlier than he’s accustomed to only highlights just how special this season could end up being for the right-hander.

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

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