PAWTUCKET – Clay Buchholz classified his 3.1-inning stint at McCoy Stadium on Friday as a step forward.
“Tonight, I was much more impressed with the velocity that I was able to sustain over the period I was out there and being able to throw all my pitches with the same effort level and arm angle,” said Buchholz after scattering seven hits and allowing one run against Syracuse. “That was basically the final hump I had to get over as far as not having a second thought in the back of my head. It was about getting my release point down on all my pitches.”
The fact that none of Buchholz’s pitches resulted in any sort of discomfort is reason to believe that the All-Star pitcher is no longer dealing with the neck-related maladies that transformed a Cy Young-caliber campaign into one he hopes that he’s able to salvage. Buchholz led all of Major League Baseball with a 1.71 ERA and was tied for first in wins (nine) when he landed on the disabled list on June 18 (retroactive to June 9).
“(Working) out of the stretch is my the only uncomfortable spot right now. I don’t feel real balanced in the stretch,” Buchholz said in response to a reporter asking about the deliberate pace he featured at times Friday night. “It’s something that I’m trying to get a comfort level with since most of my rehab appearances have been out of the stretch.”
Asked if he needed a third rehab start, Buchholz nodded his head in the affirmative. The venue for next Wednesday’s appearance will depend on the playoff schedule of Boston’s minor-league affiliates. Another factor to take under advisement is that Buchholz and his wife Lindsay are expecting the couple’s second child sometime next week.
“The next time out, I can amp up the pitch count to 75-80 and hopefully that gets me through five innings,” said Buchholz, who is targeting Sept. 10 in Tampa Bay as his return date to the Red Sox. “I need one more. If I didn’t have one more, I would be thrown to Detroit. You don’t need to go out there and second-guess the command of your pitches when you face a lineup like that. I want to make sure that I’m physically ready to go into that start [at Tropicana Field].”
The right-hander was scheduled to throw 50-55 pitches Friday; he was removed after throwing 52 pitches and 34 strikes. Had Buchholz not thrown 23 pitches in the first inning, it’s conceivable that he could have remained out there for more than the 10 outs he ended up recording.
Buchholz ended up falling behind 1-0 against four of the five Syracuse batters he faced in the top of the first. He began the outing with a seven-pitch confrontation with Eury Perez, who singled through the left side. A stolen base and a throwing error by catcher Ryan Lavarnway enabled Perez to advance to third.
The second hitter for the Chiefs, Jeff Kobernus, scraped the third-base chalk for an infield to create a first-and-third scenario for Buchholz and the PawSox. Danny Espinosa then turned on a 91 mph offering to produce a run.
A 6-4-3 double play helped make life a little easier for Buchholz, who ended the first by getting Will Rhymes to pop up to shortstop Brock Holt. Buchholz’s fastball topped out at 94 mph in the first, which was also represented the highest reading of his outing.
The first two Chiefs went down in order in the second inning before Jimmy Van Ostrand singled. He ended the frame with his first strikeout that came on what appeared to be an 87 mph cutter. Buchholz finished with two punchouts and zero walks.
Perez began the third inning in the same fashion that he began the first, with a base hit. With one down, Espinosa lined a shot into the right-field corner that Bryce Brentz bobbled. The miscue left Buchholz to deal with a second-and-third jam with one out.
A hard liner to second base produced the second out. Rhymes then watched a 91 mph offering zip by for strike three.
Buchholz started the fourth with a one-pitch out. He then allowed a loud double to No. 7 hitter Chris Rahl on a pitch that “was supposed to be a front door cutter and I just pulled it middle. Kid got some good wood on it.”
After flying from Los Angeles to New York last weekend to pitch against New York-Penn League competition, Buchholz admitted that Friday felt like a normal day from a preparation standpoint – one that saw him clear a mental hurdle.
“I felt good for a number of days a couple of weeks ago and felt like it was time to get off the mound. I actually re-injured myself doing that,” Buchholz said. “This is the hardest I’ve tried to throw throughout this whole process, which is a good thing for me.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03