Clay Buchholz’s 2014 season has been bad. Really bad.
That being said, the Red Sox still view Buchholz as an integral part of their future, especially now that he’s the rotation’s elder statesman in light of Boston trading Jon Lester and John Lackey before last week’s Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline. The real quandary, however, is that Buchholz’s season-long struggles are inexplicable.
“It’s tough,” Buchholz told the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton on Thursday in St. Louis. “If I could put my finger on one particular thing, it’d be an easy fix. I feel good, and that’s been the issue over the last four or five years with me. To finally go through basically a full season of being healthy and not having any kind of issues in an upper extremity, that’s what’s baffling about it to me.”
Baffling is a perfect word for the situation. Buchholz, who looked like a legitimate ace for the first two and a half months of last season before landing on the disabled list, hasn’t gained traction in 2014 despite arriving in spring training with sky-high expectations. Buchholz spent a month on the DL this season, but his issues seem to be rooted in his confidence — or lack thereof — rather than any physical ailment.
“Stuff’s good,” Buchholz told Britton. “I mean, I’m throwing the same pitches that I threw last year when I was having that good start to the season. It’s more about confidence and just trusting that the ball is going to do what you want it to do. Just grip it and throw it.”
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington offered a vote of confidence earlier this week by insisting that Buchholz will improve, whether it be his next start, next week or next month. Manager John Farrell seems to agree with the GM’s assessment but wants to see Buchholz trust his stuff more. According to Farrell, Buchholz is being too “fine” with his pitches.
Perhaps returning to a “grip it and throw it” approach will pay dividends down the stretch and into 2015. Buchholz must first believe in his stuff and his mechanics, though, and building that faith has been a challenge.
“If you’re confident and you make a pitch and it gets hit, you get the ball and you’re like, ‘All right, I’ll make this pitch now,’” Buchholz said. “When things aren’t going well and you’re not confident, you feel like you make a good pitch and it gets hit, you think, ‘Oh, now I’ve got to make a better pitch because they hit that one.’ It sort of snowballs on you.”
This entire season has snowballed on Buchholz, who entered Saturday with a 6.20 ERA in 18 starts. The Red Sox would like to see Buchholz, who turns 30 next week, reach his maximum potential and become a leader in a rotation full of young pitchers, but it’s unclear whether the former All-Star has it in him.
Buchholz’s season has been bad. It will only become worse without change.