Clay Buchholz Quickly Evolving Into One of Baseball’s Premier Starters Right Before Our Very Eyes

Clay BuchholzIt’s safe to say Clay Buchholz is one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Buchholz became MLB’s first six-game winner on Wednesday following another superb outing against the Blue Jays. The right-hander’s record is now a perfect 6-0, and his ERA improved to a sparkling 1.01 after tossing seven shutout frames.

It’s clear that Buchholz is back to being a front-end starter — which he was in 2010, when he finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting — but his current streak proves that he’s capable of even more than that. Health has always been the biggest issue with Buchholz, and now that he’s 100 percent healthy, we’re seeing why the Red Sox for years regarded him as a future ace.

Buchholz is throwing four pitches for strikes, and in the process, he’s making big league hitters look foolish. On Wednesday, two particular battles with Jose Bautista — a perennial MVP candidate — showed exactly how far Buchholz has come.

In his first battle with Bautista in the first inning, Buchholz placed an emphasis on his curveball. He threw three deuces in the at-bat, including one with a 2-2 count that completely froze the slugger to pick up a strikeout.

Later in the sixth inning, Buchholz once again went to the curveball in an effort to secure the strikeout. And again, he had Bautista flinching — only home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman failed to call Buchholz’s 1-2 offering a strike. It didn’t matter, though, because Buchholz bounced back and caught Bautista looking with a two-seamer.

When all was said and done, Buchholz gave up just two hits, walked three and struck out eight. The eight strikeouts mark the fourth time this season he’s reached that total, and his ability to keep hitters off balance is what’s ultimately turning him into a lights-out force.

Even when he was at his best in the past, Buchholz was never one to strike out a lot of hitters. He often pitched to contact, and therefore when he did put runners on, he wasn’t always able to escape innings unscathed. Now, Buchholz — whose strikeouts per nine innings has historically been in the 6.0-7.0 range — is striking out more than nine hitters a game on average, and his left-on-base percentage (90.2 percent this season entering Wednesday’s game) is on the rise as a result.

There will likely come a time this season when Buchholz faces adversity, and it’s at that point when we’ll finally see what he’s truly made of. Judging by his first six starts, though, it’s hard to imagine Buchholz not remaining among the game’s elite starters for the duration of 2013.

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