Pitching in a minor league game at the Red Sox Player Development Complex, Buchholz shrugged aside powerful gusts to toss four scoreless innings against a lineup of Minnesota Twins minor leaguers.
Starting with a string of fastballs and later working in his breaking stuff, Buchholz allowed just one hit and struck out four. He induced seven groundball outs, threw 31 of 45 pitches for strikes and tossed about 15 more pitches in a bullpen session afterward.
Despite the lack of a crowd and having to face a group of unknown hitters, Buchholz, who threw to Boston catching prospect Luis Exposito, appeared focused on taking the next step.
"I tried to take it as the same outing as if I was pitching against Tampa Bay or New York or whoever," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to come out here and pitch when you're used to the fans and the big stadium, but I felt really good physically, got to use all my pitches, got through four innings and got some work in."
Knowing that Tim Wakefield has had a relatively smooth spring and Daisuke Matsuzaka is finally on the mend, Buchholz knows that solid efforts, regardless of the competition, will help him secure a spot in the rotation.
In order to improve his chances, the 25-year-old right-hander has begun to put it all together upstairs. Buchholz's physical talent was never in doubt, but a more mature and analytical approach is changing his game.
His mindset after Thursday's start seemed to support that.
"For the most part I felt good with all of [my pitches]. I was able to figure out what I was doing wrong and switch it in between pitches as opposed to three to four pitches away," said Buchholz, who entered with three runs allowed in five innings this spring. "I missed a couple of fastballs and it felt good when I came back with them and adjusted. Same thing with a couple of curveballs and changeups and even the cutter. They all worked at one point in time today, so that builds confidence.
There are times now during a game where I can feel like I'm doing something wrong and in my own mind [be] able to fix it without sitting down and talking to [pitching coach John Farrell] about it and saying, 'Hey, what am I doing wrong?' I feel it and that's just from being better and growing in the game and being more mature about it. It's going to be there during the season."
To match his mental and emotional growth, Buchholz has packed on what he estimates to be about 10 pounds since ending the 2009 season at 186. He hopes to break camp at around 195 pounds and is confident that being a bit bulkier will improve his durability.
With a wind blowing across the complex that could knock down an oak, having a broader frame certainly helped.
"I feel a little bit heavier," he said. "I don't feel as if it's given me any velocity on the fastball. I just think it's gonna make it better for me throughout the season, so that if I do happen to lose a couple of pounds, I can afford to instead of being frail."
Despite the potential for competing for a starting spot, the tall Texan said he thinks Matsuzaka will be an effective part of the rotation when he is healthy. Buchholz has said before that if the Sox elect to exclude him from the rotation, he would rather be in the bullpen than go to the minors. But he also indicated that while he knew he did not have a spot last spring, it is now within his grasp.
Buchholz is in line to start again Tuesday at Minnesota.
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