FORT MYERS, Fla. — After spending Wednesday morning executing a light game of catch with Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz sat down for an episode of the Bradfo Show podcast to catch up.
As he pointed out, for about nine years running the first question in these sort of early-February interviews start with an update regarding his weight. (For what it’s worth, the right-handers frame does look a bit sturdier when we last saw him.)
The next topic? Is Buchholz going to pitch 200 innings?
The closest the 31 year old has come to the coveted milestone came in 2012, when he totaled 189 1/3 innings. But since then the totals have been 108 1/3 innings in 2013, 170 1/3 a year later, and the 113 1/3 innings he put in last season before succumbing to an elbow injury in early July.
The last couple of years coming in my body felt good. It’s been around the All-Star break where something unfortunate happens,” Buchholz said. “Given the way it was going last year, up until that point, I was one of those runs you like to be on with your starting pitcher. Go deep into games, given your team a chance to win, not give up a whole lot of home runs, making guys earn their way on base. That’s the mental side of it. You’re out there, feeling really good and then you have something set you back and you have to learn how to handle that. Over the last couple of years I’ve learned the only thing I can do about it is try and keep that from happening. That has been sort of the question mark, even for myself because there’s nobody who wants to be on the mound more than I do during a season because it really stinks sitting on the bench, especially when the team isn’t doing as good as everybody hoped for or how they thought they were going to do and you have nothing to do with it. That’s a pretty rough patch for me to not have anything to do with the team winning or losing.
“It’s just one of those things where I felt like I put myself in a good spot. As I’m getting older now I feel like there’s some switches I can make with the program we do out here and how I go about the workout routine and program. Hopefully put our heads together this year and find the ingredients for that to happen.”
The most notable “switch” Buchholz has implemented has come courtesy at least partially due the advice of one of his former teammates, Cubs pitcher John Lackey.
Buchholz is entering his time at JetBlue Park without having thrown any bullpen sessions, which is a big difference from a year ago when he came to town having four or five bullpens under his belt.
“In my mind I was thinking I was trying it a little bit different this year,” he explained. “Instead of ramping up and throwing bullpens in the offseason I’m going to get to camp around the first or second. i knew Porcello was going to be here, and I knew a couple of catchers were going to be here, too. Given our reporting date is the 18th for pitchers and catchers I can throw the same amount of bullpens being here rather than being in Texas and not being around any of the guys. I felt like this route was going to work well for me this year.
“I tried to pick a lot of guys brains. I work out with John Lackey in the offseason and he’s found his niche as far as how he goes about what he does in the offseason going into camp. We played catch for about the last month. He might throw a couple of bullpens before camp, but at this point and time he hasn’t thrown any either and he sort of eases his way into it. That was the approach I sort of thinking about taking. I talked to Johnny Farrell about it over the phone, and they were a little bit worried me coming into camp without throwing.
“Two and a half weeks from right now to throw my four or five bullpens. I can throw one every three days and it puts me on track. I can throw to Vazqy, and get reacquainted with him. I don’t feel like it’s a different route, it just started at a different time.”
The throwing program wasn’t the only change. After meeting with Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski before heading to Texas for the offseason, Buchholz received some guidelines in terms the organization’s expectations/suggestions.
“I sat down and talked to Dave before the season was over. It’s pretty much black and white what he was talking about,” Buchholz said. “When I sat down and talked to Dave it was more so of knowing what I had to do going into the offseason, taking the right amount of time off, being pretty strict on the workouts five days a week, and that’s what I did. I feel like I got stronger in a couple of different ways that I wasn’t the last couple of years. It was a good offseason for me. The one thing that was different this year is that I focused more on legs this year than I have the last four or five years. I feel like everything comes from the ground up. If my legs are in shape I don’t have to worry about my legs giving out in the first couple of bullpen. I just have to worry about arm strength, and that’s a good thing.”