BOSTON — The stars are aligned for Clay Buchholz to punch his ticket to Cincinnati.
Buchholz, whose career has been filled with both peaks and valleys, continued his amazing 2015 turnaround Saturday with a complete-game gem in the Boston Red Sox’s 6-1 win over the Houston Astros at Fenway Park. The performance continued an impressive stretch for the right-hander, who now looks positioned to earn a spot in this year’s All-Star Game at Great American Ball Park.
“He’s in such a good place mentally, where he’s repeating his delivery, he’s commanding four pitches for strikes,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “And in control (Saturday).”
Buchholz allowed one run on six hits while earning his seventh win, which put his record (7-6) above .500 for the first time since he owned a 1-0 record following his Opening Day performance in Philadelphia. He remained in the driver’s seat throughout the contest, surrendering his only run on two hits in the ninth inning as the Red Sox held a comfortable lead. He struck out eight, didn’t walk anyone and threw 72.7 percent of his pitches (80 of 110) for strikes.
It was the type of performance the Red Sox were accustomed to receiving from Buchholz at the beginning of 2013, when he went 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA through his first 12 starts to earn his second career All-Star selection. (He missed the Midsummer Classic because of an injury.) And it’s the type of performance Boston is accustomed to seeing from Buchholz lately despite the club’s inconsistency.
Buchholz has won five consecutive decisions — his longest winning streak since the beginning of 2013 — and has gone at least seven innings while allowing one earned run or zero runs in each of his last four starts. He owns a 5-2 record and a 1.99 ERA over his last 10 outings.
Buchholz’s ERA has dropped from 6.03 on May 4 to 3.27. The mark would be an even more impressive 2.62 without his nine-run implosion April 12 in the Bronx.
“Very similar,” Farrell said of how Buchholz’s current run compares to his 2013 campaign. “Any time you’re talking about a guy that’s going to go seven, eight innings pretty much each time out with low runs allowed, it’s a very similar run.”
By nearly every measure, Buchholz has been among the best pitchers in the American League, though it’s hard to imagine given his early-season issues and his struggle to record wins due to a cruel lack of run support at certain points. He stacks up favorably with the likes of Corey Kluber, Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and David Price, among others, in terms of Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) — a good barometer for how a pitcher’s ERA should look with league average results on balls in play and league average timing, according to FanGraphs — and he’s only getting better as the first half comes to a close.
It’s amazing to think Buchholz’s named has been floated around in trade speculation. While he might not be an “ace,” per se, he’s still a very good pitcher when all is right. And his contract — the Red Sox hold a $13 million club option for 2016 and a $13.5 million club option for 2017 — is extremely team-friendly, especially for an organization looking to contend annually rather than enter a rebuilding phase.
Will Buchholz earn his third All-Star selection when the AL and National League rosters are announced Monday night? Maybe, maybe not.
But he definitely has a strong case, which is rather incredible, all things considered.
Thumbnail photo via Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports Images