BOSTON — The fate of the Red Sox’s season now rests on the arm of Clay Buchholz.
If this sounds like a scary thought to you, you’re not alone. After all, the veteran right-hander has endured some brutal stretches this season, making three separate trips to the bullpen while finishing the regular season with an 8-10 record and 4.78 ERA.
But the Red Sox are sticking with Buchholz as their starter Monday for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, even after Sunday’s rainout. And it appears his teammates are just fine with that.
“I’ve been telling Buch the whole year, our biggest start of the year, he’s going to be on the mound,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said after Friday’s loss in Cleveland, which dropped Boston into an 0-2 series hole. “He always said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ So he’s been prepared all year. We expect him to be at his best.”
The Red Sox have good reason for optimism. Despite his early-season struggles, Buchholz pitched very well down the stretch, going 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his final seven starts and pitching six-plus innings in six of those outings. Manager John Farrell believes Buchholz’s turnaround started with his final bullpen stint in late August.
“There’s been a couple of things,” Farrell said Sunday at Fenway Park. “He went to the bullpen to address maybe some slight mechanical adjustments, more with him arm slot.
“In line with that is a brick-by-brick rebuild of his confidence. So, shorter stints, successful stints allowed him to regain that confidence. And as he’s gone exclusively from the stretch, his execution of pitches has been much more consistent.”
Buchholz also has been in a few big spots before. He’s made five career postseason appearances, most recently in the 2013 World Series, where he allowed one run over four innings while starting Game 4, which Boston eventually won. The Red Sox have won each of Buchholz’s last three playoff starts.
“He’s been throwing great down the stretch, and he’s got World Series experience,” veteran reliever Brad Ziegler said Sunday. “He’s got playoff experience, so we’re completely confident with him on the mound.”
Boston putting full faith in Buchholz for an elimination game would have seemed like a stretch a few months ago. But given the way he’s pitched of late, the 32-year-old veteran is the Red Sox’s best option to oppose Indians starter Josh Tomlin in Game 3. And if he can help Boston extend the series, it could set up the potential of Rick Porcello and David Price getting one more turn in the rotation.
In short: It’s a pretty big spot for Buchholz. But he’s up to the challenge.
“I thought in my mind I would be on the mound in a deciding game, as well,” Buchholz said in Cleveland before Friday’s game. “It was a little far-fetched at one point this year, but you know, I’m still here. So, I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images