BOSTON — Clay Buchholz hasn’t missed a beat.
Buchholz gave the Red Sox another encouraging outing Sunday in his second start since coming off the disabled list. The right-hander wasn’t perfect, but he lasted six innings and reached the 90-pitch mark while guiding the Red Sox to a 9-2 win and a sweep of the Yankees.
Buchholz surrendered one unearned run on two hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three, walked four and threw 91 pitches (53 strikes). The righty found himself in a few jams, particularly early on, but he went a long way toward showing that he’s still the ace he was before he landed on the DL back in June and subsequently missed three months.
Buchholz threw 74 pitches in five innings in his first start off the DL on Tuesday. He struck out six and only walked one while holding the Rays scoreless for five innings in that outing, so Sunday’s start represented a bit of a step backward from a performance standpoint. There was still a lot to like about Sunday’s victory, though, which ran Buchholz’s record to 11-0.
“Not as sharp as his last time out, but he has such an ability to manipulate the baseball and make a pitch in key spots,” manager John Farrell said. “A couple of ground-ball double plays. He created a little opportunities for them by himself by the leadoff walks on a few occasions, but he never gives in. Whether it’s a cutter, changeup or curveball, big curveball [for a] ground-ball double play to [Robinson] Cano for the one ground-ball double play. More importantly, we got him through six innings. We got him up over 90 pitches, and that was somewhat of the objective tonight in addition to going out and giving us a chance to win.”
The lone run that Buchholz surrendered was officially unearned, although it was the result of an errant pickoff attempt in the first inning after Curtis Granderson opened the game with a walk. Buchholz put the leadoff man on four times — three walks and a hit batter — yet he continually made key pitches when necessary, leading to three double plays and a successful tightrope walk for the Boston hurler.
“Large in part because he’s got four very good pitches he can go to in any count,” Farrell said of Buchholz’s ability to overcome momentary struggles. “He’s got the ability to manipulate the ball and move it off the bat head in those fastball counts, whether it’s a cutter or it’s a sinker. I think he never feels like he’s at a disadvantage because of his ability to do just that, and it’s execute big pitches when he’s behind in the count or with men on base.”
Buchholz now has 11 quality starts in 14 outings this season. He joins Roger Clemens in becoming only the second pitcher in franchise history to have at least 11 wins and no losses through his first 14 starts of the season. Clemens went 13-0 through his first 14 starts in 1986 and started the year off with a 14-0 record before finally dropping a game.
Buchholz’s 11 straight victories comprise the second-longest winning streak in baseball in 2013. Only Max Scherzer, who is perhaps the AL Cy Young front-runner, had a longer winning streak this season. He won 13 straight games from April 6 to July 3, and one can’t help but wonder what Buchholz’s record would be had it not been for his injury. Don’t expect Farrell, Buchholz or anyone on the Red Sox to think too hard about what could have been, though. They understand that the important thing is the task at hand.
“He started out one of the best pitchers in baseball and unfortunately, his season was interrupted with the three months’ downtime, but the beauty of this team is that it’s a collective group,” Farrell said. “It’s not about individual accolades or awards or acknowledgments. It’s about what we hope to continue to work towards and achieve.”
The Red Sox are 17-4 since Aug. 24. They are a season-high 33 games above .500 with an MLB-best 92-59 record and have trimmed their magic number down to four. Things were going just fine while Buchholz was sidelined, but adding a legitimate ace only makes Boston that much more dangerous.