Physically, the once (and still somewhat) lanky right-hander is on the right track. The mental aspect of his game remains a work in progress.
That was evident once again in an uneven start against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. Buchholz, who was chased by the Twins after just 1 2/3 rocky innings on Tuesday, gave up four runs in the first two frames of the rematch before finally getting into the groove.
Mentally, it was like night and day.
"It's difficult when you're thinking negatively and throwing a pitch," Buchholz said after his 87-pitch outing. "Whenever I get in trouble I'm thinking about either the pitch I just threw or the next pitch or two pitches after the next pitch, so it's definitely a frame of mind. You want to keep a short memory with it because you can make a bad pitch and then make a worse pitch and give up a two-run home run instead of getting an out."
The two-run homer came on the third batter of the game, an opposite-field bomb off the bat of Joe Mauer.
The pitch was up and away and Mauer hammered it. The result simply reinforced the lesson the Red Sox have been trying to instill in Buchholz all spring — keep the fastball down in the zone and the rest will take care of itself.
Too often, however, his head gets in the way.
"Sometimes he tries to be too fine and then he gets himself down in the count or he's thinking about other things," manager Terry Francona said. "When he just attacks the strike zone down, things usually have a way of working out without having to think about 50 different things.
"If he simplifies it, his stuff is so good."
On Sunday, after eliminating the bad thoughts and making sure not to slow himself down too much, Buchholz's good stuff took over.
He retired the last 10 men he faced and struck out seven without a walk overall. After throwing 51 pitches in the first two innings, he tossed just over 30 over the final three and kept up a rapid pace that would not allow for any mental meanderings.
That left one more obstacle — while the Boston hitters hammered away on Twins pitching, Buchholz was left in the dugout for long stretches, alone with his thoughts.
That's when he can get himself into trouble.
"It's just a lot of time to think about stuff that's going wrong," he said of long half-innings on the bench. "So I tried to sit out and think about who I had to come up next and go through it in my head of how I was going to go out and get a ground ball. … If you get unfocused it can be really easy to go out there and give it up."
Sure enough, it was a ground ball by Mauer to start the third that gave Buchholz a boost and he had little to dwell on thereafter. There were four strikeouts, four groundouts and two fly outs among the final 10 batters he saw. All this after a three-inning stretch between starts against Minnesota which saw the 25-year-old give up eight earned runs.
Buchholz expects that his broader frame will help him last longer this season. He might have to start thinking positive thoughts as well.
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