Juan Nieves sees 'very encouraging' early signs from Clay Buchholz

February 08, 2014 - 6:46 pm

Among the many offseason stops made by Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves as he checked on his pitchers throughout the country, there were particularly intriguing signs when he stopped at the University of Texas. Nieves caught up there with right-handers Brandon Workman and Clay Buchholz, where the latter offered a distinct impression compared to what he'd looked like three months earlier. At the end of the World Series, after all, Buchholz had been pitching through injury. He'd experienced lat discomfort that left him pitching mostly in the mid- to high-80s, his stuff clearly diminished by physical limitations. And so, while there wasn't much for Nieves to judge while watching Buchholz and Workman play catch, what he saw was enough to know that he was looking at a different pitcher than the one who ended the year. "It was very encouraging watching him and Workman throw," Nieves said by phone. "The last image you had from Buch was of course the game in St. Louis. He was not running on all gears of course. So I thought when he was throwing casually, it was very encouraging. He got out to about 90, 95 feet with Workman. It was nice the way the ball was coming out of the hand. It was very encouraging to fly out there, see him play catch and be really quick, play some catch. The comment after was, 'Great.' Very excited about him. I was very excited, encouraged to see him and Workman play catch, and how free and easy the ball was coming out." Whether indications of health now might translate to health throughout 2014 remains to be seen. After all, Buchholz has spent time on the DL in each of the last four seasons for a variety of ailments (hamstring, back, esophagus, shoulder), averaging just 138 innings a year in that span. Yet his significance to a Sox team hoping to repeat is unquestioned, as underscored by his 12-1 record and 1.74 ERA in 108 1/3 innings for the Sox last year. If he can remain on the mound in 2014, it would give the Sox a chance for a rotation upgrade relative to the performance of 2013. "The biggest word for me with him is health -- staying healthy throughout the whole season," said Nieves. "He should be a very big impact guy if he's completely healthy."