Clay Buchholz's strikeout rate has tumbled in each of the four seasons he has played with the Red Sox. In fact, he is fanning nearly three fewer men per nine innings than he did as a no-hitting upstart in 2007, when a killer curveball and hard fastball combined to make him a swing-and-miss guy.
The shrinking strikeout numbers, while not nearly as sexy, are simply another indication that the 26-year-old has turned a corner.
Utilizing a more complete arsenal that does not need to rely on blowing away opponents, Buchholz has seen several other numbers plummet, the kind you want to see drop.
In addition to posting an American League-leading 2.36 ERA, Buchholz has seen his hits per nine innings fall from 11.0 in 2008 to 8.9 last year to just 7.4 in 2010. His walks have dropped from 4.9 to 3.5 to 3.4 in that span. After giving up 1.3 home runs for every nine innings in both 2008 and 2009, he has cut that number to 0.5.
Players are hitting Buchholz, but rarely well.
"Lots of contact, but not on the barrel," manager Terry Francona said.
The month of August offers up a great example of Buchholz's ability to let his defense do the work.
In four starts this month the right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA. Not once has he struck out more than five men, and the one time he did that it came in eight innings of work. But opponents have just 21 hits in 30 1/3 innings and only one of those hits has left the yard.
In his previous outing against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Buchholz admittedly did not have his best stuff. He fell behind a handful of hitters and was in a couple of jams which required him to make a pitch.
Repeatedly, he did. The result was seven scoreless innings and a 6-0 win.
It is Buchholz's new-found ability to not only keep hitters off balance but to also win the war when the hitter might have the advantage that has set him apart this year. In similiar situations in previous years in which he would rear back and try to blow away the hitter, often hurting himself in the process.
"When the game has started to speed up he hasn't really let it," Francona said. "Guys get on, but he minimizes damage, stop the bleeding, however you want to say it, he's been real good at it.
"I think he's a little different pitcher. When he first came up he was four-seam, straight change, big curveball … Now he's got that sink in it, he's getting contact but it's not on the middle of the plate."
Buchholz is "a little different pitcher" but one with a big improvement in almost every area. Just don't expect him to wow you with the strikeouts anymore.
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