John Farrell, Red Sox 'very hopeful' Clay Buchholz 'lasts the entire season'

Mike Petraglia
February 23, 2014 - 10:26 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Clay Buchholz defines what it is to be a lean, mean pitching machine. But the way the Red Sox see it, he needs to be sure he's fueling that machine the right way. The 29-year-old right-hander enters this season trying to prove to himself, the organization and fans that he can be a reliable go-to guy at the top of the rotation. Buchholz reports to camp again this year, looking in great shape with a 6-foot-3 frame filling out at roughly 190 pounds. "I feel as normal as I've felt in a long time right now," Buchholz said Sunday. "When I was 21,22 coming into camp, I didn't pick up a ball until I got here and I could go out there and throw as hard as I wanted to on Day 1. It's a little bit different. I'm not going to say that I'm old by any means but being older, the wear and tear of playing a long season like last year and the previous years, it takes a pounding on your body to be able to bounce back and think that's the part where you have to be more mature about what you do in the offseason and how you do it to put yourself in the best position." There's no doubt he has the stuff but does he have the right conditioning? "We're very hopeful he lasts the entire season, and right now he's in with every other pitcher in terms of his throwing days, his progression to batting practice today, and everything he dealt with from a physical standpoint last year he addressed in the offseason," manager John Farrell said Sunday after Buchholz threw his first live batting practice of the spring. "His shoulder strength is very good, so we're looking forward to another productive year from Clay." Buchholz is coming off a season that -- when he pitched -- he was nearly unhittable, finishing with a 12-1 record and a 1.74 ERA and a 1.025 WHIP, both of which would have led the majors, except for the fact that he was able to throw just 108 innings in 16 starts due to a number of ailments, including fatigue in his right shoulder. "If the number of innings pitched this year are equivalent or anywhere close to the way he's performed as we've come to know Clay, I'm not saying it has to be to the 1.7 ERA of a year ago, but this a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. For him to put in a 32-start year for us and be out there for an appropriate number of innings, he has a chance to make a huge impact on this team. I know he's doing everything he can to do it, to accomplish that. I think he's settled into a very good routine this spring so far. Given the challenges he's had to face, he's getting more aware of what his body's needs are and really how to maintain the durability." So what's the key? "To me and to us as we've outlined to him, it's probably a combination of nutrition and a consistent routine," Farrell added. "That's not to say in those ways but how can we improve the nutrition to the point of giving him the fuel to continue to remain durable. And if there are times where that might not be there, is he starting wear away or wear down the body a little bit more than otherwise? So, this is all part of, like any other pitcher or any other player, you're always looking to adjust and remain at that optimal level as long as you can. "This isn't a matter of Clay not eating. We know he's a lean, lean body type. We're not looking to thicken him up for the sake of being thicker but there are ways we're looking to address and strive toward that durability." Buchholz has never thrown 200 innings, coming close in 2012, when he went 11-8 in 29 starts over 189 innings. He was 17-7 two years earlier in what might have been his best overall season, considering he posted a 2.33 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP with a league-leading adjusted ERA of 187. So, this is another even season. Good sign? "Clay would be a right in line with what the [expectations] might be because he can do some things with a baseball that not many pitchers can do [like] the ability to throw multiple pitches, very creative on the mound. We've already had a sit-down meeting with him, as we do with everyone, and it's very clear in the way he's speaking and what he recognizes he needs to maintain and that has as much as to do with the four days in between starts as it does the days on the mound." Besides fueling his body the right way, there's more that Buchholz has been doing this winter, like pacing himself. "I usually come into camp as close as to midseason form as I can," Buchholz said. "I think that's the change that I've made this year. It's more using spring training to get ready for the season rather than being ready. I'm in a little different position this year. In past years, I was battling for a spot in the rotation, three, four years ago and I had to be ready in camp just to prove I was ready to go. But now, being solidified and having a spot, you don't have to put any added stress or pressure on yourself to be fully ready to go and pitching games when you get here. "As far as how much throwing I did in the offseason, that changed just for the fact of the shorter offseason and coming off an injury. I tried to make it as light on myself as I could in that aspect of it. But the workout and conditioning are things basically that [remained] the same. I took my regular time off as far as throwing, even with the short offseason so it was about two and a half weeks before camp that I started long toss. "I'll do whatever they want. I know our medical staff and training staff are trying to find different ways to keep us going throughout the season. Every year there's something new that we do. It's whatever that fits the piece of the puzzle. It's probably going to be a little give-and-take as far as what you're comfortable with. I'm open to anything." Everyone recalls Game 4 of the World Series last year when Buchholz, with a tired shoulder, showed the Red Sox that he's much more than just a thrower with blazing stuff. "I think the biggest thing was no risk of injury, and once he got to that point, mentally, I think he was confident enough to the point of taking the stuff he had on that given night and go to the mound. It goes back to his ability to manipulate the baseball and be a little creative, where if his stuff is a little bit less than optimal days, he gives himself and us every chance to win. I think it's all part of that maturation process as well." "I think it's more command over velocity," Buchholz recalled Sunday. "It's hard to think that out there trying to compete and get guys out. That was the first time in my life that I was actually not going out there trying to throw every pitch as hard as I could. I could've kept going, too. There was that pinch-hitter that I was taken out of the game for. Just knowing I could throw 94 miles an hour, with movement on every pitch you throw. I was 86, 89, 90 in that game and had some success with it against one of the best teams in baseball. I don't want to do that right now but I know that in the future, if I get to play long enough, I can do it."