Flashback: Why Clay Buchholz offers a silver lining to Allen Webster

July 22, 2013 - 6:32 am
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There looked like a time when Allen Webster would be ready to force his way into the Red Sox rotation this year. The 23-year-old had been impressive in his first major league start, and dominated Triple-A hitters to the tune of a 2.87 ERA, striking out 60 batters in 53 1/3 innings. His work in Triple-A earned him an extended stay with the big-league club in June, but this time, Webster struggled. In four starts, he was hit hard, allowing 25 hits in 18 2/3 innings, giving up 18 runs and posting an 8.68 ERA. Webster was demoted and sent back to Pawtucket after going only 2 1/3 innings against the Mariners, allowing seven runs on six hits while issuing two walks. But Webster'€™s struggles followed him to Pawtucket, where he'€™s been shelled in two straight outings. His issues came to a head in his most recent start, when he lasted only an inning and a third, getting tagged for seven runs. Webster gave up three hits, but that was mainly because he didn'€™t give opposing batters much to work with. He threw 49 pitches with only 18 going for strikes and issued five walks. The right-hander was touching 98 mph with his fastball, but just like in the majors, he struggled to locate it. Webster'€™s control problems are alarming, but there'€™s one starting pitcher in the Red Sox clubhouse who can relate to Webster'€™s early struggles. Like Webster, Clay Buchholz enjoyed success in his first brief stint in the big leagues (including his no-hitter in his second career start in 2007), but the second time around presented new challenges for the right-hander, and he finished his second year in the majors with a 6.75 ERA in 15 starts. Buchholz sees a lot of himself in the 23-year-old. '€œHe reminds me of me,'€ Buchholz said recently. '€œI feel like he obviously doesn'€™t have anything left to prove in Triple-A, and I'€™ve felt that way, too. But Triple-A and the big leagues are two different places, and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get the feel for that.'€ It may seem like Webster'€™s toils are hard to comprehend, but Buchholz, having experienced similar issues, can see one reason why the rookie is getting hit hard. '€œWhenever I struggled up here when I was younger, I grabbed the ball and tried to strike the guy out on the first pitch. I feel like that'€™s what [Webster] does," said Buchholz. "He gets so amped up that he tries to throw a pitch as hard as he can. It doesn'€™t matter, at this level, if you throw 97 or 100. If you miss middle-up too many times, you get hit. I think that'€™s sort of what'€™s going on with him.'€ Though only five years older than Webster, Buchholz has plenty of wisdom to impart on the young starter, drawing experience from his own tumultuous stretches in the past. '€œWhenever he gets 2-0 on somebody, he gets even more amped up to try and get somebody out, and he misses again and it'€™s 3-0, or he misses again and gets hit," said Buchholz. "I told him, '€˜When you'€™re 2-0, you have to learn to have the confidence to know you can throw a pitch on both sides of the plate. Like your fastball, if it'€™s a right-hander you throw it down and away, if it'€™s a left-hander you throw it down and away to the other side. Once you do that, you can feed off it, but it doesn'€™t happen overnight.'€™ '€ There'€™s no question that Webster has an impressive arsenal of pitches, and when he'€™s locating both his fastball and off-speed pitches, he can be very effective. Buchholz thinks that, with Webster'€™s stuff, he can afford to work the middle of the plate without always trying to paint the corners. '€œHe already has a really good two-seamer. That'€™s what he throws predominantly. He throws two-seamers, and has a really good changeup, too. When you have a good two-seamer and a good changeup, you should have success. You just have to learn that the middle of the plate, at this level, is not a good place to be," said Buchholz. "[With his two-seamer], he can throw it middle. That'€™s what I told him. Stop trying to hit corners. Just focus on being down at the knees, and let your ball move. Because nine times out of 10, if you try to throw a ball down the middle of the plate and split the plate in half, you'€™re not going to do it anyway. So I said, '€˜Aim middle with the two-seamer. Just aim at the knees and let it move.' It'€™s easier said than done.'€ Buchholz, who sees a lot of similarities between his and Webster'€™s deliveries, offered Webster a suggestion that helped him locate his pitches more effectively in the past, a simple fix that he adopted last season. '€œI tried to get him to move over on the rubber, because he throws across his body like I do, and sort of steps at the hitter, and all of his misses are up and away or up and in to a righty," said Buchholz. "Those were where all my misses were before I moved over. But he hasn'€™t had that comfort level of moving over but I'€™m going to try again next time I see him. It'€™s a process, but he'€™ll find a way to get through it.'€ There'€™s no doubt in Buchholz'€™s mind that the rookie will find a way to make it back with the big club, and sooner rather than later. And when he does, Buchholz will be there to give Webster any guidance that he might need. '€œHe'€™s got too much stuff to not be up here. He'€™ll deal with it. He'€™ll find a way to fight through it, and next time he comes up I'€™ll talk to him again," said Buchholz. "I'€™ll tell him every time he comes up. He'€™s a special talent and obviously has good stuff and he'€™s just got to learn how to harness it.'€

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