It means he might learn a lesson or two that he can apply in September.
The Red Sox lost their fifth straight game on Wednesday night, a 3-1 defeat in Texas at the hands of the host Rangers. The young righty Buchholz, three weeks away from his 25th birthday, left after four innings having allowed three Ranger runs on six hits. He walked three batters and struck out two.
It was Buchholz's 19th career start in the major leagues, dating back to his debut almost two years ago, but he's still learning to pitch at the major league level.
Eventually, the Red Sox have hopes of Buchholz being more than a four-inning guy. They have hopes of him being a No. 1 starter on a contending team. They have hopes of him being their man to beat the Yankees in a must-win game in October.
But first he must learn to beat the Rangers in July. On Wednesday night, it took Buchholz 90 pitches to get out of the fourth inning. Thirty-four of them were balls; 56 were strikes. Buchholz faced 21 batters in his four innings of work; he only started off ahead 0-1 on 12 of them. He attacked the zone in the first two innings, getting ahead of eight of the first nine men he faced, but then things started to unravel.
"His second time through the order, especially against a lineup like Texas, they really started making him work," Terry Francona said Wednesday night. "A lot of deep counts — he threw strikes, but he got into 1-1 counts, and he wasn't as efficient as he probably needed to be."
This is what major league hitters do. They make you work for every single out, and if you can't power through in the middle innings, you've still got some work to do. With Buchholz, that appears to be the case.
"I think my legs were getting a little bit tired out there," Buchholz said. "I tried to not slow down too much, to move past it. It's been a problem when runners get on base … I tried to get back on the mound and throw the next pitch and go from there, but everything didn't work out according to plan."
It's OK. Buchholz has a long career ahead of him, and the plan will work out eventually. He has a strong three-pitch arsenal featuring a fastball that routinely hits 95 — with his major league stuff, it's only a matter of time until he builds up the major league experience. With that experience, he'll learn to be more efficient with his pitches and go after the strike zone against big league hitters.
The old baseball truism is that it's about confidence — the more experience you get, the more you believe in yourself on the field. But if you watch Buchholz's actions and you listen to his words, you get the impression that confidence has never been the problem. He knows what he's capable of — he's been keenly aware of it all along. And why shouldn't he be? He struck out 89 batters and walked 30 in Triple-A this season. The man can pitch.
All year long, he kept dominating the minor leagues while keeping one eye on the majors. He spent months watching guys like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield pitch for the Red Sox, knowing that could easily be him. Then, when injuries gave way to Buchholz finally getting his shot, he wanted to make it count.
So far, things have been up, then down. Through two starts, Buchholz now has a 3.72 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP in the big leagues. But two starts do not a season make. Buchholz has earned the right to show the Red Sox what he's got, and he's not done yet.
He has the potential to be better than this. Much better.
But it won't happen overnight. These things never do.