With his arm getting stronger and his range of pitches broadening, Clay Buchholz is a candidate for starting on Opening Day. No one in the Red Sox pitching rotation has a broader pitching selection, and no one competes for six innings like Buchholz.
The key question is how will the Red Sox match up against the number one starting pitchers in the American League East? Now that the Yankees have Masahiro Tanaka and the Rays have their usual intimidating staff led by David Price, and the Orioles lead off with Chris Tillman, the Red Sox can not count on too many runs when they face the number one. Jon Lester is good for the long haul, but he is not the shut-down pitcher the Sox need early in the season. Lester is a clutch pitcher who gets better as the season develops, but he is not at his best in April.
In April and May of 2013, Buchholz was the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He mowed down hitters up and down the line-up with his combination of fastball, curve, and cut fastball. This year he has added a change-up. By Opening Day he will be the shut-down pitcher the Red Sox need against the best of the East and the equally dominating Central (Max Scherzer; Justin Verlander) and West (Darvish).
Indisputably Buchholz is fragile and needs a little pampering. Maybe he only pitches five or six innings in the early going. Maybe seven innings is the most he should pitch. But the Red Sox claim to have a strong bullpen, which can pick up whenever he reaches his pitch limit. That’s why they spent most of their money on relief pitchers like Mujica, Badenhof, and Cordero. Combined with Uhehara, Breslow, Tazawa, and Miller, they should be able to fill some of those innings.
With all due respect to Jon Lester, the Opening Day pitcher for the Red Sox should be Clay Buchholz. He can match zeroes with the best of them.