Before the Red Sox ever contemplated demoting Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz shouldered all the criticism on the pitching staff. Through five starts in April, the right-hander was a shell of his former self, tallying an 8.69 ERA.
Then, somewhere along the way in May, it all clicked for Buchholz. He re-discovered his changeup and also mastered his curveball en route to quashing the vitriol that surrounded him early on.
His latest outing in Thursday's 7-0 win was a true gem. After Baltimore shelled him in two earlier starts, Buchholz turned in his best performance of the season, tossing a complete-game shutout to snap Boston's seven-game home losing streak to the Orioles.
"Confidence and being able to throw some pitches in different counts that I wasn't able to do early in the season," Buchholz said of the key to his success. "My changeup is a big pitch. I've been able to throw that to get back into the count or get ahead."
But it wasn't just his appearance against the Orioles, where he surrendered just four hits, which resonated. During his past three starts, Buchholz has absolutely stymied opponents, allowing four runs while striking out 19 over 24 innings.
Since May 11, Buchholz has owned a 3.10 ERA. As a result of his renewed confidence and improved feel for pitches, the 27-year-old has managed to lower his ERA from a dismal 9.09 to 5.77.
For Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, the turnaround all starts with Buchholz's changeup.
"When you have a good changeup, it's the best pitch in baseball, many people say," Valentine said. "It gets people off of your fastball. It lets you throw something when you're behind in the count other than your fastball, which is the pitch they're trying to time. If you can break hitters' timing, you have a good chance of getting them out."
It took mechanical adjustments — a change of arm slot — along the way for Buchholz to refine his pitching. But the rustiness was to be expected after Buchholz missed the majority of the 2011 season with a back injury.
Now, after shaking off the rust, he's executing the pitch to precision by inducing weak grounders.
"The only adjustment was the grip," Buchholz said. "My grip was a little off. I've been able to free that up a little bit. I'll still spike some and let some go up and in to righties, but not near as much as what I was doing. It's just been a pitch we've tried to work on for a long time, and we noticed it wasn't the same grip I had in past years. It's coming back."
So are the results. By blanking the Orioles, Buchholz posted his third career shutout –– the other two took place on Sept 1, 2007 and June 4, 2010 –– and has chewed up eight innings for two straight starts.
Just like that, he's gone from embattled to empowered.
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