FORT MYERS, Fla. — Clay Buchholz has shown an ability to be elite. The problem is that Buchholz’s flashes of brilliance so often are followed by periods of frustration.
Taking that into consideration, the Boston Red Sox must temper their excitement when it comes to Buchholz’s strong spring training performance thus far. However, it’s hard not to be encouraged by the right-hander’s progress, particularly because there are several positives working in his favor with Opening Day less than three weeks away.
“You never want to cap or project what the performance will be, but we know darn well it’s going to be an elite type of performance,” Farrell told reporters in Dunedin on Friday after the Red Sox’s 3-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. “That’s not going out on a limb. That’s what he’s proven when he’s been on the mound.”
The term “elite” shouldn’t be tossed around with reckless abandon, but it’s difficult to dispute that Buchholz has shown such potential at points in his career, including last season. Buchholz was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA through 12 starts in 2013, making him a legitimate contender — if not front-runner — for the American League Cy Young, before neck and shoulder issues limited him to just eight starts the rest of the way and even threatened to prematurely end his season during the World Series.
Last season wasn’t the first time Buchholz’s durability was an issue, as the 29-year-old hasn’t reached the 200-inning or 30-start marks in any season during his seven-year career. But Buchholz has given the Red Sox reason to believe this season could be different by altering his diet, learning how to pitch more effectively even when he doesn’t have his best stuff within a given outing — something that was evident in the World Series — and willingly accepting the organization’s attempt to ease him into things this spring before eventually ramping up the intensity.
“I haven’t had any setbacks physically,” Buchholz told reporters Friday. “I feel like I could go about every day under a normal routine and a normal schedule. Given the past couple months of my season, they knew coming in I wasn’t exactly where I was in past years. We’re keeping an eye on it, but like I’ve told them, every day I come in I feel fine.”
Buchholz was very sharp in his four innings of work against the Blue Jays on Friday. He surrendered back-to-back hits to begin the game, but then retired the final 11 hitters he faced. Buchholz struck out three and didn’t walk anyone while throwing 55 pitches and showing an uptick in velocity.
It’ll be a few months before the Red Sox have an accurate read on Buchholz’s potential to get through an entire season without any physical ailments, but Boston can expect very good production for as long as he’s healthy. If Buchholz stays on the field, the term “elite” isn’t a far-fetched label.