FORT MYERS, Fla. — Clay Buchholz thinks he’s ready to shoulder the load.
Of course, Buchholz thinks that every year. He thought it last year when he began the season with his best first half ever. He was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in early June, a (very) early favorite for the AL Cy Young Award and a shoo-in to start the All-Star Game.
Then he suffered a shoulder injury – something that wasn’t expected to keep him out long.
But it did. Weeks turned into months. It was September before he could return to the mound. The Sox traded for Jake Peavy in part because they weren’t sure if they’d get back Buchholz, or what they’d get from him if he did return.
By the postseason, Buchholz was an afterthought. He pitched, but he wasn’t dominant.
A championship will make you forget all of that, yet Buchholz is here ready to prove he can be a durable ace.
We all know he has the stuff to do it. Can he stay on the field long enough to do it consistently?
“You can’t be among the elite guys in the league unless you do that,” said Buchholz. “Everybody knows that. Everybody goes off numbers. It’s just one of those things; you’ve got to make yourself do the work whenever you’re tired that day.
“I used to come into camp as close to mid-season form as I can. I think that’s the change I’ve made this year. It’s more using spring training to get ready for the season.”
In other words, Buchholz is smarter about the work he needs to put in. It used to just be a matter of working harder, but with his wiry frame he could overdo it. He needs to condition himself for the long haul.
“In past years I was battling for a spot in the rotation,” said Buchholz. “Three, four years ago I had to be ready at camp to prove I was ready to go. Now, being solidified, I don’t have to be fully ready to go and pitching games once I get here.”
Buchholz has never thrown 200 innings in a season. He’s never made 30 starts. Yet he has tantalized us with his ability. A big-league no-hitter as a September call-up, a 12-1 season on the way to a championship.
It’s a pretty simple equation. The more often Buchholz is on the mound, the more often the Red Sox have a chance to win.
“He has a chance to make a huge impact on this team,” said Manager John Farrell. “I know he’s doing everything he can to accomplish that. I think he’s settled into a very good routine this spring.
“He can do some things with the baseball that not many people can do. (He’s got) the ability to throw multiple pitches. We’ve already had a sit-down this spring and it’s very clear in the way he’s speaking that he recognizes the fact that he needs to maintain.”
Recognition and execution are two different things, yet they go hand in hand. Buchholz has worked on nutrition, conditioning, everything you can imagine to help him make it through a long season.
He’ll be on the mound in Baltimore in early April, and will undoubtedly dazzle us with his ability.
Will he be doing it in July, and then September?
The answer to that question will tell us a lot about Boston’s hopes of becoming the first team to repeat as champs since 2000.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.