They say good things come to those who wait. Clay Buchholz certainly hopes that’s true.

Last season, Buchholz arrived in Florida determined to wipe away memories of a disappointing 2008 season. After he threw a no-hitter during a September call-up in 2007, everything went wrong from the start in 2008.

Named to the starting rotation, Buchholz had a horrible spring training, posting an ERA of 10.03.

Things didn’t improve when the team went north. He won two of 11 decisions and soon was on his way back to the minor leagues.

He was demoted to Double-A Portland, where he had to get his mechanics — and his head — together.

Last season, Buchholz burst out of Fort Myers ready to go but didn’t have a spot on the big league roster.

While he was going 7-2 with a 2.36 for Triple-A Pawtucket, veteran projects like John Smoltz and Brad Penny were pitching for Boston. They didn’t perform well.

When Buchholz got his chance, he made the most of it. He finished the 2009 season by going 7-4 for Boston, with nine quality starts in his last 10 appearances. He gained weight in the offseason, got married and returned to spring training a more mature pitcher.

And he’s still having trouble finding a spot in the rotation. With the addition of John Lackey, there are six legitimate starters on the roster.

Buchholz has the least experience of them all. He’ll have to bump someone — Tim Wakefield is the most likely candidate — off the roster.

“Basically we have six guys,” Manager Terry Francona told the media Sunday. “They all look healthy. They all look really productive.

“(Daisuke Matsuzaka) is a couple of weeks behind everybody, but I think the idea is, we want Buchholz to be in our rotation for the next (few) years. I think we all expect that’s going to happen. That’s kind of what we told him.”

Francona knows the uncertainty of a roster spot can lead a young pitcher down a bad path. Maturity has always been a question for Buchholz. Caught in a numbers game, would he lose confidence in himself?

“It would be awkward for anybody,” Buchholz said. “I guess there are four guys who, regardless of what happens, will be on the staff. The other two, three guys — yeah, it’s awkward.

“I’ve got to basically do what I did last spring, do what I did to finish the season last year, and I think everything will take care of itself.”

Those are the words of a young man who has learned a lot about his place in the game. A young man who doesn’t appear worried about what others think of him. Buchholz has always had great stuff — he would’ve started last season as a No. 2 or 3 starter on most teams — but has had to learn patience.

Francona knows those lessons will pay off.

“We’re looking at (Buchholz) throwing the other day and going, ‘That’s why you don’t trade pitching.’ You see a kid that’s that age starting to understand it.”

Buchholz threw his no-hitter more than two years ago, so it’s easy to forget he’s still only 25. The other five pitchers in line for a spot in the rotation have an average age of nearly 32. When General Manager Theo Epstein talks about a “bridge” to the future, there’s no doubt he understands Buchholz is a big part of it.

That said, how much longer can Buchholz wait?

“I can’t do anything about it regardless of what I think,” said Buchholz, “so I might as well not think about it and put any added pressure or added stress on myself.”

The pressure will come soon enough. Opening night is less than a month away. For now, Buchholz is showing the Red Sox how far he’s come in the last two years, a journey that is bringing him back to the form he showed as a 23-year-old.


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.


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