A big decision about Clay Buchholz’s role is coming up for the Red Sox. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Clay Buchholz has become one of the Red Sox’ most important pitchers. So why shouldn’t he be put in what has become this team’s most unsettled spot?
After the Red Sox’ 2-1 win over the Rays Tuesday night, John Farrell wasn’t tipping his hand. Would the guy who just rattled off a 6 2/3-inning, one-run gem stay in the starting rotation, or be pushed back to the bullpen due to the return of Steven Wright?
“As far as Clay goes, this will be more conversation within,” Farrell said. “But setting that aside, he’s throwing the ball exceptionally well right now.”
He sure is. A 1.96 ERA since July 27 backs that up. And so does his 2.70 ERA in the three starts Buchholz has turned in since filling in for Wright. Watch him over the past two outings, and it’s easy to envision the righty qualified to start a postseason game.
So it would only make sense to let Buchholz keep rolling along in the starting rotation, right? Wrong.
This isn’t about whether or not he could keep having success in the starting rotation. Considering Buchholz’s history, he would seem to be primed for one of those runs he has previously executed. The track record is that when the pitcher gets going like this, he is only derailed by one thing — injuries.
The priority here is finding a lock-down eighth inning guy, and Buchholz is the best candidate for that position.
“Yeah,” said Buchholz when asked if he would embrace such a challenge. “I like competition. I like being in spots where everybody is betting against you.”
The Red Sox have very viable candidates to keep the starting rotation’s recent success trending in the right direction. When healthy, Eduardo Rodriguez and Wright have proven enough to have faith they can be leaned on.
The eighth inning? That’s another story.
Brad Ziegler needs to be put in more specific situations, and not just sent out every eighth to get three outs. Take a look at the swing lefty hitter Kevin Kiermaier put on the reliever’s one-out offering, that resulted in an absolute rocket down the right field line. He can pitch to lefties, but getting ground balls and prioritizing dominating tough righty hitters should be the priority.
There has been some rumblings about choosing to use former reliever Drew Pomeranz to high-leverage land. But considering the lefty is on a pretty good run, himself, and, unlike Buchholz, hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen this season, that seems like an unnecessary move.
Buchholz actually seemed to start thriving in his relief role, which was his existence just a few weeks ago. And when it comes to those all-important eighth-inning outs, there is something to be said for stuff, and Tuesday night’s repertoire (which included a 95 mph moving fastball) spoke volumes.
“It’s different than I thought it was going to be the first time I got sent to the bullpen,” he said. “I still think of it as a demotion, because obviously it is. But you still have to have your wits about you out there because you’re coming into scenarios inside of a game that are going to be big scenarios, important scenarios. I think it was a really good thing to see that from both sides. Having to make pitches on a moment’s notice. It has been good.”
Maybe the Red Sox prioritize drawing back on Pomeranz’s innings and his ability to get out lefties. Or perhaps they take their time with Rodriguez and give Buchholz another start to delay the decision.
But it just seems like, as we sit here, Buchholz is one of the Red Sox’ most effective pitchers. And that being the case, it sure would seem like a good idea to use someone like that in a place like the eighth inning.
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