The Big Pitcher, part 1: The Buch stops here

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The following is the first of five in a series focusing on the Red Sox starting pitchers. 

Jan-Christian Sorensen
Contributing Writer

Go ahead. Take a hard look at the numbers. Pull out the old fine-tooth comb.

Find Clay Buchholz’s fatal flaw this season. We defy you.

And by “you”, we mostly mean Blue Jays broadcasters and pitch-doctor detractors Jack Morris and Dick Hayhurst.

Buchholz has been a potent blend of dependable and dominating for the Red Sox thus far in 2013, punching the ticket on his seventh win last night in Chicago, where he went seven innings and struck out four, lowering his league-leading ERA to a stingy 1.73.

If there was one blip on the radar it came in the third inning, when Buchholz needed 63 pitches to finally retire the side. From then on he was his old steady self, however. It was the ninth time in his 10 starts this season that the Texas native has gone at least seven innings, and on three occasions he put in eight innings of time, lessening the workload on the middle and late relief.

If you had to pinpoint one uncharacteristic start, it would be May 6 against Minnesota, when Buchholz went only six innings and gave up seven hits and four earned runs. Still, the kid managed to strike out nine on the night.

“There are a couple starts where I should’ve gotten a loss, maybe two or three where the team battled back and I picked up a no-decision or a win,” said Buchholz. “It goes hand in hand. It’s definitely good when you can run out there and have confidence in the team."

"Having confidence is a big thing. That’s definitely part of it. It’s fun pitching when you’re good.”

Good? That’s one way to frame it.

Here are some others: Buchholz is a flawless 7-0 in ten starts and boasts the fourth-best ERA in all of baseball. He’s second in the AL and third in MLB in innings pitched (72.2), third in the junior circuit and fifth in MLB in strikeouts (73), and has only allowed two home runs and 14 runs overall on the year. He was also named the American League Pitcher of the Month for April.

Buchholz was originally snapped up by the Sox in the 2005 First Year Player Draft as a compensation pick for free agent Pedro Martinez. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, it was a pretty canny move, trading in one fading legend for a future star who has more than lived up to the potential.

Just flash back to Buchholz’s auspicious second career start against Baltimore on Sept. 1, 2007, when he became only the third pitcher since 1900 to toss a no-hitter in their first or second start in the bigs. He’s been an investment that has paid off major dividends for the Sox.

His best season so far for Boston was 2010, when he went 17-7 with an ERA of 2.33. Lifetime, he’s 53-32 with a 3.69 ERA.

As for this season, the sky’s the limit.

All-star? Most definitely. Cy Young? He's off to a fine start.

“When you look at the bottom line, it’s because he got a number of different pitches he can go to in different spots,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “He’s not going to rely solely on his fastball. He has certainly set the tone for us on the mound.”

Perhaps White Sox slugger Paul Konerko said it best after Buchholz’s start against the Sox on Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field: “Yeah, he’s good. I don’t think that was his best and I’m sure he’d say it wasn’t his best night either… But that’s why he’s good. He made the pitches he needed to in just those situations that kept the game under control.

"We kind of let him off the hook and part of that is us and part of that is him, because he’s that good.”

Coming into the day, the Red Sox starting pitching corps is ranked first in the American League in innings pitched (282.2) and second in the AL in the following categories: wins (21), strikeouts (277) and average against (.234). The Sox starters are third in the AL in both ERA (3.73) behind Chicago and Texas, and hits allowed (248). On the downside, Sox starters are leading the league in walks, issuing 114 free passes to date.

Twitter: jan_doh