BALTIMORE — The voice was that of his father.
“Trust your pitches. Trust your pitches.”
Skip Buchholz was nowhere to be found in or around Camden Yards, where his son helped lead the Red Sox to a 3-1 win over the Orioles Friday night. But the words he, and a variety of coaches and mentors, had implanted in Clay Buchholz’ head might have been the difference this time around.
“I’ve had a lot of sit-downs since last year and it’s been said to me a couple of times, ‘The stuff is there.’ Sometimes during the game you might not trust the pitch or trust the catcher in what he’s calling, and that’s when you’re leaving balls over the plate and they get hit,” said Clay Buchholz after his six-inning, one-run outing.
“My dad told me the whole year, even when things are going good, about what I’m doing well and not doing well. But ‘Trust your pitches’ is something that stuck in my head, which is something he and a couple of other people have told me. So now if I’m throwing a fastball I just say, ‘OK, just trust it,’ and throw it to whoever is catching.”
This time around, Buchholz’ trust was put to the test.
Unlike perhaps any other time this season, the young pitcher was presented with the obstacle of making it through a start without many of the weapons which had led him to become the Red Sox’ No. 3 starter.
“Sometimes it was my two-seam fastball that I was throwing well, and then that would run away from me,” Buchholz explained. “The slider was actually the only pitch I could throw consistently for a strike. For a pitch I really don’t throw that often, it’s weird for that to be the pitch that’s working when it’s usually been the changeup or curveball to this point. Sometimes you have to take what you’re given and not worry about it. But, yeah, it was a different feeling to be sure.”
Looking at Buchholz’ line, it would be hard to decipher this start from any of his previous four. Like those, he appeared in utter control, allowing just the one run on five hits while throwing a fairly economical 95 pitches. The only difference would appear to be the fact he gave up a home run for the first time in five starts, and there was just the one strikeout.
Then, listening to his teammates, the perception didn’t change.
“He’s become a stud,” said David Ortiz.
“He’s been great,” said Dustin Pedroia. “That’s No. 1 stuff. He’s got great stuff and he’s getting more confidence each time out.”
There was even the continued favorable comparison to the pitcher many believe was going to be Buchholz’ ticket out of Boston, Roy Halladay. Since the trade deadline, the Sox hurler has a 5-2 mark with a 3.48 ERA in 62 innings. Halladay? Just four innings more with a 4-5 record and a 3.82 ERA.
The reality, however, was that the win over the Orioles offered yet another step toward Buchholz’ maturation.
One of the biggest knocks on the pitcher was that he couldn’t put adversity in the rear-view mirror. This time around it was the absence of the curveball, or the changeup, or either the two-seam or four-seam fastball. It could have been bad. Buchholz wouldn’t let it be.
“Last year I don’t know what I would have done,” he said. “I might have pressed a little bit more to try and throw a strike, thrown it down the middle and watched it get hit. I feel better with myself throwing pitches that I can get guys out with now.”
NOT WITHOUT SOME BUMPS AND BRUISES
Jason Bay could see it coming.
"My daughter has been sick for five days at home so it was just a matter of time," Bay said.
The flu that had lingered with his daughter finally caught up to Bay, forcing the left fielder from the game in the fourth inning.
"I didn't get a really good sleep last night and I woke up and it was kind of touch-and-go the rest of the way," said Bay, who was replaced by Josh Reddick. "I just tried to ride it out. I haven't been able to eat much. If I can just get something to eat I'll be all right. Today I came in feeling like I was getting sick for a bit, I didn't take [batting practice] and went out into the game. It was kind of like, 'Hey, let me know how you're feeling,' and halfway through I just kind of ran out of steam."
Another casualty for the Sox was center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who tweaked his groin muscle while stealing his 62nd base of the season, in the first inning. (As a quick aside, Ellsbury has identified the Camden Yards infield as perhaps the best natural playing surface to run on, as his 17 stolen bases — his most in any park other than Fenway — would suggest.)
Red Sox manager Terry Francona said that it will depend on how Ellsbury feels when he wakes up Saturday morning as to whether the leadoff hitter will play or not, but talking after the game the player didn't seem overly concerned.
"Hopefully it's nothing that keeps me out," said Ellsbury, who had two more hits to raise his average to .302. "I think it should be fine, but, yeah, I just tweaked it in that first inning stealing. ... I'm pretty sure I'll play, but it's one of those things that you never know if it's going to tighten up tonight. But I'm pretty confident I'll play tomorrow."
Ellsbury has been remarkably consistent since the end of July, with Friday night offering another example. On Aug. 1 he was hitting .303, and since then the outfielder hasn't seen his average drop below .294, with it hanging at .299 or higher throughout his last 10 games.
Ellsbury also has become a proficient two-strike hitter, totaling more two-strike hits than any player in the major leagues (73). Last year he had just 43 two-strike hits in 251 at-bats, while this time around he has managed his total in 265.
One player who seemed to have made progress in his fight back from injury is Kevin Youkilis, who went 0-for-4 but showed no signs of problems from the back spasms that sidelined him throughout the Angels series. His improved health was evidenced in the seventh inning when he beat out a potential 4-6-3 double play with inspired hustle down the line.
"I feel pretty good, just little things here and there," Youkilis said. "I felt good out there and I'm glad to be back playing. I felt good. I felt probably good enough where I could have played yesterday but they wanted to hold me back another day, so I was playing at a higher level today."
WAKEFIELD STILL ON TARGET
Tim Wakefield's path to another start, scheduled for Monday in Kansas City, remained on target after the pitcher threw 40 pitches without incident in a bullpen session prior to Friday night's game.
When asked if he was still all set for a Monday start, Wakefield simply said: "In my mind, yes."
"He did pretty well," Francona said of Wakefield's side sesson. "I think he felt some improvement. We'll check him tomorrow and do some strength testing with the idea that he'll pitch on Monday."
If for some reason Wakefield isn't ready to go against the Royals, one option to replace him in that start won't be Josh Beckett, who will get an extra day of rest this week and will pitch on Wednesday, with Paul Byrd slated to appear on Tuesday.
"We wanted to give Beckett an extra day," Francona said. "We've had a lot of conversations, especially with he and Lester because they've carried a big load. When we all feel like it's in their best interest we try and do it."
Beckett and Lester are sixth and seventh, respectively, in the American League for total number of pitches thrown. Beckett has thrown 3,166, while Lester stand at 3,136.
A CHANGE OF PLANS?
Due the challenges that figure to be presented thanks to hockey being played at Fenway Park in January, and the subsequent construction on the park that is scheduled to follow, WEEI.com has learned that the Red Sox are still petitioning Major League Baseball to begin the 2010 season on the road. The MLB-released schedule for the '10 season has the Red Sox beginning their regular season at Fenway on April 5 against the New York Yankees, although there was a provision within the announcement that said the schedule is "subject to change."
"We continue to ask about the possibility of opening on the road," said Jonathan Gilula, the team's senior vice president of business affairs. "I think there still is [a chance of starting on the road]. As the schedule is released it is subject to change, it is the type of change Major League Baseball is still looking at."
THE SECRET TO GONZO’S SUCCESS
Did you know that since Sept. 1 Alex Gonzalez (.280) has a better batting average than offensive shortstops such as Ben Zobrist, Jimmy Rollins, Marco Scutaro, Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew? He also is just one batting average point and one slugging percentage point behind Miguel Tejada during the span.
Better yet, starting at Aug. 24, Gonzalez has the best batting average of any American League shortstop (.329).
Friday night, there was just one hit from Gonzalez — the No. 9 hitter lining a slider sharply into left-center field for an opposite-field single. But what that one hit did was continue to offer a reminder as to how much the shortstop has exceeded expectations.
With the Red Sox, Gonzalez is now hitting .290. So, how does a player who came with so few offensive expectations find his way so suddenly? Just a little patience, that's all.
"We talked when he got over here that obviously breaking balls had been an issue at times," said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. "Good breaking-ball hitters let the ball come to them. So we just tried to instill in him to let the ball travel. Let it get to you. As soon as you go out and get it, you're going to have issues. Just back the ball up a little bit. You don't have to be out in front. If you're late on a heater you can line it to right.
"When he gets in trouble is when he wants to go out and get the ball. Nobody is going to hit a breaking ball if you're way out in front. So rather than cheating on the fastball, have confidence that you're going to be able to stay short to that pitch. Now he works on it. We just talk about letting the ball travel just a little more. That's the difference between hitting a line drive to right-center on a breaking ball, or rolling over and hitting a grounder to third."