BOSTON — After 12 starts, Clay Buchholz was your Cy Young Award favorite with a 9-0 record and 1.71 ERA.
Now he appears to be breaking down again. And the Red Sox have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Or should we ask how much strength remains in the shoulder?
Or is there another issue?
The Red Sox aren’t saying but there’s obviously something limiting Buchholz. Boston won’t name him as the Game 3 starter.
Is there something wrong with him?
“Not to the point where he’s not going to pitch,” Manager John Farrell said.
In other words there’s something wrong but not enough to keep him off the postseason roster.
Farrell said Buchholz will start Game 3 or 4 and Jake Peavy will start the other. Farrell’s claim is he’s waiting to see how the Cardinals hit against right-hander John Lackey on Thursday, to see which style – Peavy’s or Buchholz’s – he wants to use in Game 3 on Saturday night in St. Louis.
But there is something else to consider. The Game 3 starter would be slated to pitch Game 7, if there is one.
Does Buchholz have two starts left in him?
“That’s being factored in,” Farrell said of the decision on who starts Saturday. “We have to stay conscious of that. The last two starts, when (Buchholz) hit the wall, it happened pretty quick.”
Buchholz’s three postseason starts have been rocky.
In the division series in Tampa Bay, Buchholz pitched four shutout innings. He gave up four hits in the fifth, including a three-run homer.
In Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit, Buchholz pitched five scoreless innings. In the sixth, he allowed four runs on two doubles and two home runs.
In Game 6 of the ALCS, Buchholz again was working on a shutout through five innings. He gave up a walk and single to begin the sixth, and Farrell came out quickly to get him.
Noticeable in that last start: Buchholz’s fastball dropped from 93 mph in the early innings to 89 mph in the sixth.
Is Buchholz just getting tired or is there something wrong, like a weakened shoulder? Or a combination of both?
Again, Farrell was vague.
“I don’t know that I could split that accurately,” Farrell said.
In other words, both.
Buchholz is getting tired but there’s also something wrong. When the possibility of a weakened shoulder was mentioned, Farrell didn’t deny that, so that’s a possibility.
Buchholz has had his fragile moments since 2007, when he emerged from being the Portland Sea Dogs’ ace to finishing the year with a no-hitter in the major leagues.
After that no-hitter, Buchholz was discovered to have a weak shoulder. A lack of conditioning was blamed. Instead of being part of the 2007 postseason, Buchholz was sent home.
Buchholz bounced between the minors and majors over the next two years. He shined in 2010 (17-7) and looked to be part of a monster rotation in 2011.
But Buchholz hit the disabled list in June, diagnosed with a mild strain in his lower back. He never got off the DL. By August it was rediagnosed as a stress fracture of a vertebra, and Buchholz was done.
This year Buchholz got off to his blistering beginning. He missed a start because of soreness in his collarbone/shoulder area. At the time Buchholz said it stemmed from sleeping awkwardly.
But the soreness continued and Buchholz eventually spent three months on the DL with inflammation of a shoulder joint.
He returned in September and looked like he had enough to help Boston in the postseason.
But he appears in decline. The question is how much more can Buchholz give?
“We do notice there is a physical difference in stuff,” Farrell said of Buchholz’s pitches. “That’s our guide. We’re probably a little more in tune … When (Buchholz hits the wall) we have to be able to react quicker.”
So Buchholz will get another start, probably Sunday. He may get yanked quickly.
Don’t be surprised to see Felix Doubront come in for long relief – in the minor leagues that’s called a piggy-back start, when the first starter is on a strict pitch count and another starter follows.
The Red Sox don’t want to reveal any plans. Heck, they don’t want to admit that Buchholz is not 100 percent.
He’s not. But maybe Buchholz has just enough left to make a difference.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: