Funny how a season turns out when the Boston Red Sox find themselves with an abundance of starting pitching, and fans actually want Clay Buchholz to make another start. Those same fans demanded Buchholz be banished at the trade deadline, whether Boston got back anything of value or not.

Now, it appears Buchholz, 32, could become a key part of a pennant push …

But not as a starter.

Oh, Buchholz could win Boston some games starting, as his last two starts show (12 innings, two runs).

But Boston has five starters and they are capable – if you discount Steven Wright’s first-inning oops on Friday, and assume Eduardo Rodriguez believes he’s healthy enough to pitch.

Boston’s No. 1 problem is the bullpen – and it’s No. 1 by a huge margin. Shore up the relief pitching and we’re not only talking playoffs, but making plans for late October.


The reasoning for Buchholz as a reliever is fairly obvious.

Boston desperately needs a bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel. Brad Ziegler seems the natural candidate for the eighth-inning role, given his experience. But there’s a hesitancy to use him against left-handed batters or good low-ball hitters (remember when John Farrell opted for the fatigued Junichi Tazawa over Ziegler against the Tigers last week, resulting in another blown save?).

Matt Barnes appeared ready to be the late-inning option but is inconsistent (six walks, five hits and four runs in his last seven innings).

 Buchholz has proven he can adapt to the bullpen (something Rodriguez has never done). In Buchholz’s last five relief outings he’s gone 61/3 innings, allowing one hit and no runs.

 In the past, Buchholz has come through when needed. Throughout a career filled with injuries and inconsistencies, Buchholz has been smeared with a label of undependability. But I can think of two postseason appearances when he came through.

In 2009, Buchholz began the season in Triple-A. He rejoined the Red Sox roster in late July and was OK (7-4, 4.21). In the first round of the playoffs against the Angels, Buchholz started an elimination game. He pitched five innings and left with a 5-2 lead, only to have relievers Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon give it up.


In 2013, Buchholz was having a Cy Young-type season (9-0, 1.71) when he missed three months with neck and shoulder pain. Buchholz came back in September but obviously wasn’t right in the postseason, the sore shoulder reducing his fastball to 90 mph. In Game 4 of the World Series with Boston down two games to one, Buchholz gutted out four innings (one unearned run) to give the Red Sox a chance to win (which they did).

So believe it or not, he could be clutch again for Boston.

Just when people want to give up on him, Buchholz gives a reason to believe. That’s why Boston should pick up his option for 2017 ($13.5 million), but that’s a topic for another day.

THE BULLPEN should also receive a boost when rosters are expanded Thursday, with Joe Kelly moving up from Triple-A. Since coming off the disabled list, Kelly has made 11 appearances for Pawtucket. With his high-90s fastball, Kelly has struck out 23 in 14 innings, allowing one earned run.

Kelly is an apparent replacement for the ineffective Tazawa, and probably should be called up already, except Tazawa has no minor league options (and the Red Sox seem to think he still might contribute).

Another option in Pawtucket is left-hander Robby Scott. He’s has a 2.29 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, with left-handers batting .144 against him, right-handers .228. But Scott isn’t even on the 40-man roster.


MAURICIO DUBON is on a streak with the Sea Dogs. When his numbers were recently compared with those of Mookie Betts’ 2014 statistics in Portland, I got some grief from readers with accusations of hyperbole.

But after Dubon’s 5-for-5 performance Friday, these are the facts. He’s batting .352 with a .946 OPS through 53 games. Betts, in his 54 games with Portland, batted .355/.994.

Dubon’s five-hit effort came the same night Betts went 5 for 5 with Boston.

THE SEA Dogs’ last home game is at 1 p.m. Sunday. Team awards will be announced before the game. No one’s asked me but here are my picks:

MVP: Outfielder Aneury Tavarez (league-leading .335 average). Runner-up: catcher Jake Romanski (.299 average, 50 percent success in throwing out base-stealers).

Pitcher of the year: Mitch Atkins (28 games, league-high 132 strikeouts). Runner-up: Keith Couch (9-4 in 15 starts).

Tenth man: Tzu-Wei Lin (superb fielder while playing three infield positions and some center field). Runner-up: Nate Freiman (.287, 10 home runs as first baseman/DH).

Citizen of the year: Mike McCarthy (the model of community involvement for the third year). Runner-up: Ryan Court (playing catch pregame was a highlight for many kids).


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