Tagged: Clay Bucholz

Wishing for A’s; Dreading C’s

When you think about it, Juan Nieves is right; whoever is out there today is the ace. It all depends on today’s starting pitcher. However, that doesn’t address the fact that none of Boston’s starters are reliable, day-in, day-out consistent hurlers.  They all have question-marks on their records. Any one of them could win twenty games or lose twenty games, given the opportunity.

Mostly they pitch to contact, usually a good trait. But if the bases are loaded and none out, a strike-out might be called for. None of these pitchers, except maybe a revived Clay Bucholz, could be expected to deliver that. And when you pitch to contact, you better have control every fifth day. Catching too much of the plate can send you to an early shower.

When you go up against Felix Hernandez or Yu Darvish, you’d like to think you have a shut-down guy, an A-hurler.  Which one of the Fab Five will be that guy? We don’t know yet and maybe we won’t know when Spring Training breaks. Call him “ace” or call him “next in the rotation,” is he the guy to match “0’s” with dominant pitchers?

Teams like to have a “stopper,” the guy who will halt a losing streak, because he stops the opponent cold.  Do the Red Sox have that kind of pitcher? Is it Bucholz? Is it Rick Porcello? Is this the “A-team” or the “C-team” ? We don’t know yet.

A year ago I was touting Clay Bucholz for No. 1. I still am, but I’m not placing any money on it.

The bullpen needs a periodic rest. Is there someone who will give you eight or nine solid innings? The guy who can run down a line-up four times? We don’t know yet.

It’s these uncertainties that make fans long for that one pitcher, who will turn the tide or stop the bleeding.  Yes, he may already be in the rotation, ready to ascend to glory. Is it Joe Kelly? Is it Wade Miley? We don’t know, and we may not know till June.

is it any wonder the fans are wishing for straight A’s?  And worried that they might come up with five gentleman C’s?

Buchholz for Opening Day

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.

Home-grown Crop

Image

John Farrell

The flocks have gathered for Spring Training, and it looks like the Red Sox are happy with the pitching staff and pitching prospects they have. Ubaldo Jimenez has signed with the Orioles, and the Yankees captured the pitching prize of the season in Tanaka. The Sox will match up with them with John Lester, Clay Bucholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Dubront and a cast of young, hopeful candidates.

No one in the rotation could be defined as a workhorse, with the possible exclusion of John Lester. They are not unfamiliar with the disabled list, especially Bucholz, who has yet to prove his arm has a full season in it.  In spite of these questions the Red Sox seem to have a personnel strategy that runs counter to the American League East— bring on the youngsters!

The Red Sox have stocked their pitching staff with a number of home grown starters, considering Lester, Bucholz and Dubront, and they appear to have faith  in the starters of the future in Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Drake Britton,  Rubby DeLaRosa, Anthony Renaudo, and Matt Barnes.  Workman has already proven he can start in the Majors. He is good enough to replace anyone at the bottom of the rotation. And Webster seems to be on the brink of gaining some composure to go with this astounding curve ball.  And the others appear to be bonafide contenders. So the odds of  coming up with two more starters out of Spring Training are good.

The exit of Ryan Dempster is a signal to all of these prospects that arms are for hire in Fort Myers this spring.  That is a good signal to send to young pitchers, who need to feel that their time is now. They have the opportunity to join the staff of World Champions and a manager who knows pitching talent.  A vacancy is just what the Red Sox needed to get their attention and get them on the fast track to the Major Leagues.

I was perturbed by the Red Sox’ inaction in the pitching market over the winter, and I think they are taking a risk now by depending on unproven pitchers. But I like the risk and I like a pitching staff that has roots in the farm system.  It shows confidence in the drafted talent, the coaching in the system, and in the principle of loyalty. The Red Sox may yet prove that team loyalty is not an outmoded concept and that the young arms have realistic hopes of throwing for the parent team as soon as 2014.

Legends on the Rise

The Red Sox are now writing their own legend for the 2013 season, because the naysayers have risen to immortalize them.  Jack Morris, from his seat high up in the Rogers Center, asserted that Clay Bucholz was throwing a spitball Wednesday night.  Then on Thursday, with his powers of observation honed to supernatural acuity, Morris the Cat  claimed that Junichi Tazawa was throwing one, too.

No doubt the fact that the Blue Jays had scored two runs in eighteen innings had some rejuvenating power on his eyesight.  No doubt the Jays’ current residence in the cellar of the American League East inspired the notion that somebody must be cheating.

Yet Bucholz had already dazzled the second place Yankees with a similar array of pitches. If there was any funny business going on, do you think the Yankees would have missed it or the opportunity to mention it?

Still when a visiting team threatens to dominate the local entry, something must be done. Jack Morris pulled out the spit ball card, not once, but twice in a week.  And we thought Curt Schilling had too many  unequivocal opinions.

Really it’s an honor to  have your team’s integrity questioned by the announcer for a contending, yet blundering team, because it gives your team more credit than they deserve.  Rather than blaming the home team, he weaves a conspiracy around the visiting team. Apparently all the home team needs to rejuvenate is a series against a team that throws mostly dry fast balls.

Rather than blaming the flightless Jays Morris had to use the “S” word, so now opposing pitching coaches will be standing on the first step of the dugout with binoculars, and umpires will be inspecting the ball before throwing it back to the Red Sox pitchers, and rain delays will be called prematurely to prevent the moisturizing of the baseball when the Sox play.

Baseball teams hailing from Boston are not used to this kind of respect toward their pitching staff.  The last time the Sox were accused of delivering a spitball, it was a legal pitch. So leaving Toronto with a cloud of accusations following after them is a rare privilege. The pitching staff has to be great to earn it.

The Red Sox are now perched at the top of the league and in the sights of every conspiracy theorist and alibi weaver.  Thanks to Jack Morris, the 2013 Red Sox are writing their own legend.

What Matters for 2013

Gordon Edes of ESPN.com takes a dim view of the re-treads the Red Sox brought in over the Winter. He portrays the glass half-empty for 2013: fragile bodies, disappointing 2012 performances, uncertain clubhouse culture. But Edes misses the point when he evaluates what the Red Sox have added, because the one thing that has to change in 2013 is the pitching.

The Red Sox will hit, they always have hit, but what will make the Red Sox into a contender is their pitching. So it matters that they brought in Ryan Dempster, Joel Hanrahan, and Koji Uhehara, all pitchers with good credentials. Even more it matters that the front of their rotation, John Lester, Clay Bucholz, and John Lackey make a comeback from career-worst seasons in 2012. If those three pitch as they are capable, it hardly matters who is in the line-up next to Ortiz, Pedroia and Ellsbury. The Red Sox will hit, and they will win.

On their best days, no one can out-pitch John Lester and Clay Bucholz.  The problem was they had maybe two “best days” apiece during the 2012 season.  You could see the pitches, the aggressive approach, the frustration in the eyes of the hitters, but you saw it only occasionally. These are both blue chip pitchers. Other teams always ask for them in trade talks. What will they show in 2013?

In 2011 John Lackey spelled disappointment. Many doom-sayers thought the Red Sox had overpaid for him, and I was one of them. When it was disclosed he had a deteriorating elbow condition, a lot of things made sense.  Lackey should be a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he hasn’t been healthy since he came to Fenway Park.  If he can win 14-15 games in 2013, he will be what the Red Sox anticipated when they traded for him.

Rounding out the rotation will be Felix Dubront and Ryan Dempster.  Both of them can be counted on for 10-12 wins if they stay  healthy. Both of them have to prove they can endure a full season of starting at 6-7 innings a start.  Both of them have proven they can face the best line-ups in baseball when they are healthy. So durability is the big question.

The bullpen has been reassembled with a new closer, Hanrahan, with Aceves moving back to middle relief. Andrew Bailey’s health remains a question, and Daniel Bard’s confidence needs re-building, but the bullpen can survive the collapse of either of them with the insurance of Uhehara, Aceves, Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller. Franklin Morales may yet play a vital role for the Red Sox, but where and how remains a question.  The upshot is there are a lot of questions in the bullpen, but a lot of answers as well.

So what matters in 2013 is, Can John Farrell, the erstwhile pitching coach, assemble a strong pitching staff from these elements? The Red Sox were clearly counting on this when they aggressively pursued his contract from the Toronto Blue Jays.  Ben Cherrington was clearly counting on this when he signed Hanrahan, Uhehara, and Dempster.  All the noise about Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew is just distraction compared to what happens on the mound this year.

It’s a new era in Major League Baseball.  With good hitting you might stake out third place in the division. For the long haul and in the playoffs, pitching rules.

A Nice Pair of Sox

Speculation around the 2013 Red Sox revolves around the new acquisitions in the off season, especially Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster and Joel Hanrahan.  These players could revitalize the team at their respective positions, but they are not as crucial to the success of the 2013 Sox as two pitchers who have become veteran leadership: John Lester and Clay Bucholz.

If both Lester and Bucholz return to the form of their early years with the Red Sox, they could be the most potent top of the rotation in the American League.  They are probably the two most-mentioned players in trade talks during the off season and simultaneously the biggest disappointments of 2012.

The 2012 World Series showed how critical pitching has become in Major League baseball. The Giants won because their pitching rose to the occasion and the Tigers lost, because theirs didn’t. Excellent pitchers can beat excellent hitters , even Triple Crown hitters like Miguel Cabrera.  Bullpens can take over a game in the seventh inning with lefty specialists, set-up men, closers and defensive replacements.  The last three innings have become like fourth quarter football with preventive defense.

The Red Sox have stocked their bullpen with multiple closers, set-up men and lefty specialists.  It’s hard to imagine a less than competent bullpen from the likes of Hanrahan, Bailey, Uehara, Aceves, and Miller.  With Breslow, Tazawa and Morales, they even have depth to anticipate injuries.

So it comes down to the top of the rotation, which could be the most feared in baseball.  The physical health of Lester and Bucholz can not be assumed, but the discipline and mental preparation will definitely improve under John Farrell, who brought them into the Major Leagues as their pitching coach.  Farrell’s value to the Red Sox really turns on his ability to manage pitchers, and these two pitchers are his proudest accomplishments as a pitching coach.

Even in their worst seasons in the Majors, there were days when Lester and Bucholz were unhittable in 2012.  You watched accomplished hitters trudging back to the dugout shaking their heads. They knew they had been over-matched.  Contending teams in baseball need two pitchers who can do that. Ryan Dempster can do that, too, if his arm holds up.

It’s a safe bet that the Red Sox will improve offensively with a healthy return of Ellsbury, Ortiz and Pedroia.  The team chemistry has to improve with their new manager. Defensively they are stronger up the middle than in any recent season. The crucial element is the pitching and Lester and Bucholz are the critical members of this staff.  Imagine a season when both of them are healthy and focused, and you can imagine two twenty-game winners. Then you can easily imagine playoffs and who knows what else?