BOSTON — Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz didn’t look like himself through his first three starts of the 2014 season. In fact, he looked so far removed from his normal ways that there was cause for concern — even this early in the season.
Buchholz has begun to figure things out, though, and his successful start against the Oakland Athletics on Friday — in which he allowed just one earned run over 6 1/3 innings while earning a victory — further showed he’s morphing back into form.
“Each pitch had definition. … His curveball had good depth, his cutter has got some power and some added tilt to it,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said while assessing Friday’s start. “He’s put himself in a better position with his delivery to execute pitches.”
Buchholz was roughed up by the Milwaukee Brewers in his first start of the season, surrendering six earned runs and a career-high 13 hits over 4 1/3 innings. He was better in his next start against the New York Yankees despite suffering his first loss, and he turned in another workman-like effort in his third start against the Chicago White Sox. But Buchholz looked like a shell of himself — a pitcher who went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 2013 — against the Baltimore Orioles in his fourth start, allowing six earned runs on seven hits over 2 1/3 innings.
Buchholz seems to have found his stride over his last two starts. He earned his first win behind a seven inning, three-run performance against the Toronto Blue Jays, and his improvement continued Friday, as Buchholz kept the Oakland Athletics — the top team in the American League — to a season-low one run. Buchholz gave up a season-low three hits and recorded five strikeouts.
Buchholz used a variety of pitches in his dismantling of the Athletics, but it was his cutter that set up the rest of his arsenal.
“It was the best one I’ve had all year, for sure,” Buchholz said. “I messed around with a couple of different grips and got back to square one with it. Over the offseason last year, I tried to manipulate the ball rather than just letting it work out of my hand. I’ve changed a couple grips with it, and tonight I basically got back to the same grip that I had.”
Buchholz was helped by a mild offensive explosion, which was highlighted by Dustin Pedroia’s grand slam in the sixth inning. The grand slam marked Pedroia’s 100th career homer and helped ensure Buchholz would secure his second victory of 2014.
Boston’s starting pitchers have given up three earned runs or less in nine of the last 10 games since April 22. If Buchholz can continue to improve, the run of success could continue for a while.