Clay Buchholz was quicker, more aggressive and more economical on Thursday. It was all by design, and it’s no surprise that the right-hander also saw better results.
Buchholz, who was lifted from his first spring training start in the second inning because of a high pitch count, lasted all three frames he was scheduled for on Thursday. When his day was done, Buchholz walked away with a stat line far more impressive than the one he put up on Saturday, and he also left with a mindset that should bode well for the Red Sox moving forward.
Buchholz’s health and use of all pitches were enough to be pleased about Saturday’s spring debut, but there were clearly some issues despite the “good day of work.” One of the flaws that needed to be addressed was the time that Buchholz spent between pitches, and the Red Sox’ coaching staff did its best to nip that problem in the bud.
The Boston staff actually busted out a stopwatch while Buchholz was pitching in the bullpen between starts, with the goal being to get him down to 15 seconds between pitches. Previously, he had been working with 25- to 28-second intervals, which not only led to some painstakingly slow at-bats, but also limited Buchholz’s comfort level.
“You grip the ball, and the muscle memory, you feel more comfortable doing it again rather than taking 20 seconds or 25 seconds between pitches,” Buchholz told reporters following Thursday’s outing.
The increased comfort was obvious, as Buchholz tossed three scoreless innings, including two eight-pitch innings. He threw 38 pitches, 31 of which were strikes, and he even struck out four Twins batters while setting the tempo for a 12-5 Boston win.
The jump in efficiency was not only obvious. It was massive. Buchholz threw 40 pitches in 1 1/3 innings on Saturday, and only 22 went for strikes. That’s a 55-percent strike percentage, which is far below the 81.6-percent mark he featured on Thursday.
Buchholz also made strides on Thursday when it came to getting ahead of hitters. One thing that’s been particularly impressive about veteran Ryan Dempster this spring has been his ability to deliver first-pitch strikes. Clearly, it’s an emphasis that extends throughout the entire rotation, and Buchholz showed he’s on board with the philosophy by throwing first-pitch strikes to eight of the 11 batters he faced.
Even when Buchholz missed with his first offering, though, he still tried to maintain the same rhythm, and that’s something that should enable him to avoid disastrous innings when things do go off the tracks a little bit.
“If you can’t throw a first-pitch strike with your fastball, that’s where the tempo comes in for me,” he said. “Whenever I feel good on the mound, feel comfortable, I feel like my tempo has always been better.
“We tried to make it a point, even whenever I miss with a pitch, to get the ball and get back on the mound and regroup and go from there rather than taking my time and thinking about it.”
So much of pitching is mental. If Buchholz can stick to the approach he took on Thursday, then the righty’s natural ability should take over, and that’s exactly what manager John Farrell and Co. are shooting for.
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