EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 13, 2013

The Right Stuff

Developing cutter, two-seem fastball has made Buchholz a star

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Baltimore Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth has learned that studying film of Clay Buchholz doesn’t help much.

“There’s not really a pattern you pick up,” McLouth said. “Against him, if you try to do too much you’re going to be in trouble because he’s got multiple pitches he can put you away with.”

Buchholz undoubtedly has the nastiest array of pitches of any Boston starter, including Jon Lester. It’s interesting to look back and examine how much the right-hander has changed since the Red Sox drafted him in 2005 and even since he threw his no-hitter Sept. 1, 2007 in his second career major league start.

Buchholz, who is scheduled to pitch tomorrow, has been excellent in both his starts, allowing just one earned in 14.0 innings (0.64 ERA) and striking out 12 with a 1.07 WHIP.

He has ace ability. But he must remain healthy to reach ace status. He’s been on the disabled list each of the last three Junes and has never started 30 games.

“I think he’s got the kind of stuff where he doesn’t have to be perfect,” McLouth said. “He can get away with some mistakes because especially with his fastball, he has the velocity that if he makes a mistake, it’s not as easy to hit his mistake as a guy throwing 89 (mph). He did throw a lot of fastballs (Monday) but I think he moved it around well. Certainly with the array of pitches he’s got and the ability to change locations and to change speeds, he’s good.”

Buchholz didn’t feel perfect during the 7.0 scoreless innings he pitched against the Orioles Monday. But now he can get away with not having his best stuff.

“In the minor leagues, I was more of a power guy, four-seam, 12/6 curveball and a change-up,” Buchholz told The Eagle-Tribune.

“When you strike out people, that’s sort of the repertoire I think that everybody looks at. Right when I got up here, I still struck out a few people, but as time moved on, the strikeouts weren’t coming and that’s what sort of got me in trouble. And when I got sent down and all that stuff, I had to find a way to make myself better.”

Buchholz struggled after the no-hitter, posting a 6.75 ERA in 16 games in 2008. His confidence took a hit. He had to become mentally tougher and change his repertoire some.

He started throwing a cutter in games in 2011.

He has thrown it 21.3 percent of the time at an average of 86.8 mph in his two starts this year, according to fangraphs.com.

“And I predominantly throw two-seam fastballs now instead of four-seams,” Buchholz said.

“Basically, I just started relying more on movement than overpowering and trying to get a ball past a guy. If I’m behind in the count 2-0, throw something that’s moving in the zone and let them take a whack at it and hopefully, they hit it at somebody.”

Lester was the first person Buchholz asked for advice about the cutter.

“Obviously, it’s different in the simple fact that he’s left-handed and I’m right-handed, but he sort of mastered that pitch in being able to throw it to both sides of the plate,” Buchholz said.

“It’s a pitch that looks like a fastball, still has velocity and has that little late life to it. For him moving into righties and for me, moving away from them.

“It’s a pitch that I can throw 3-1 (count) if I know a guy’s swinging, or I can throw it 3-0 if I think a guy’s going to swing,” Buchholz added.

“It’s a pitch that’s a little bit easier to keep in the zone than a curveball or a change-up.”

Buchholz dominated in 2010. He was an American League All-Star, going 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in 28 starts (173.2 innings).

But he suffered a stress fracture in his lower back in 2011, limiting him to just 14 starts (82.2 innings). He did pitch well in his limited action, going 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA.

Coming off his back injury, he struggled a great deal early last year with a 7.19 ERA after 10 starts. That made his overall statistics (11-8, 4.56 ERA in 29 starts and 189.1 innings) deceiving.

There were stretches when he pitched like an ace. He posted a 2.40 ERA in four June starts (all wins), a 2.45 ERA in four July starts, a 3.72 ERA in five August starts and a 3.03 ERA in five September starts.

Buchholz, therefore, didn’t have to correct much this spring training while working with his old pitching coach John Farrell, the new manager, and Juan Nieves, the new pitching coach.

“Bringing Juan in, he’s one of the best as far as I’m concerned, Buchholz said.

“He uses positive reinforcement in such a good way that it makes you feel really, really good about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.”

An example of that positive reinforcement came during spring training when Buchholz hurt his hamstring.

“When everything was (starting) to go good and I was supposed to throw off the mound, he shot me a text like, ‘Hey Buchh, I’m thinking about you. I can’t wait to get into that bullpen tomorrow.’ He makes you feel good about what you’re doing and what’s going on. And John’s the same way. Everybody knows he’s got our backs. If something goes on we know he’s going to be the first person that’s going to protect us and that brings the team close together.”

Clay Buchholz' prep work Does Clay Buchholz study video of opposing lineups? Buchholz said, "I like to look at their last three, four or five at-bats and see what pitches they're hitting, what the count was. That's why this game is a lot harder than I think it used to be because of the use of the video and the technology. You can view anybody's at-bat from 10 years ago."