The Buch Starts Here: Clay's got Spring in his step

Clay Buchholz is throwing hard, feeling healthy and looking to put
together a complete, dominant season in 2014 (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

Jan-Christian Sorensen Contributing Writer

Picture this: the fifth guy in your starting rotation is a righty who went 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his first dozen starts of 2013.

Yeah. That’s right. The FIFTH guy.

That’s a formidable final cog in any starting rotation’s wheel, and a bookend that any Major League manager would be thrilled to roll out every five days.

While he’s certainly good enough to vie for the no. 2 slot behind the undisputed ace of the Red Sox rotation, Jon Lester, fifth chair is just fine with Clay Buchholz.

Last year the lanky right-hander compiled a sparkling, Cy Young-worthy twelve outings before hitting the disabled list for more than three months with neck and shoulder issues. When he returned to the bump in September he battled fatigue and clearly wasn’t the same lights-out pitcher he was earlier in the season, but still managed to chip in with three more wins to finish the year 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA.

So far this spring, “Buch” has been looking like he’s recovered nicely from the maladies that were ailing him at the mid-season mark of 2013. He’s healthy, he’s throwing hard and he’s ready to try and silence the detractors who say he’s too brittle to make it through an entire season.

“Definitely, I feel good,” he said, after his first spring training start. “I don’t know if it’s because of the time off or whatever, but everything seems to be coming together pretty easily right now. “It definitely feels completely different than the last month and a half, two months that I threw last year. That’s what I wanted to feel like coming into camp, and I just have to keep working day to day and getting out there every five days.”

This spring, Buchholz went 3-2 with a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings of work in five Florida starts, striking out 13 and walking five. In his final Grapefruit league assignment against Tampa Bay on March 25, he went six strong and gave up two runs on three hits while striking out five and walking two.

Yesterday, NESN singled out Buchholz as Boston’s best bet to vie for the American League Cy Young award in 2014, at 15-1 odds according to Bovada Sportsbook. He’s listed eighth overall on the Cy Young odds among AL hurlers.

If Buchholz had been able to log enough innings to qualify for Cy Young contention last season, he would have led all Major League starters in win percentage (.923) and ERA but was held to only 108.1 innings due to injury. It was his lowest innings-pitched total since 2011, when he missed half the season with a stress fracture in his back and was limited to 82.2 frames.

Buchholz doesn’t seem to mind being tabbed as the last man for the dance floor when it comes to the starting rotation behind Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy.

“My first or second year in the big leagues my job was to be the fourth or fifth starter,” said Buchholz. “And there was a span during the season when four or five games in a row I faced (CC Sabathia, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke) so it doesn’t matter where you start.

“This is a hard game to play, especially how many games we have during a season. Some people make it look easy — the (Dustin) Pedroias that play every game at a pretty crazy position. Jon Lester throws 220-230 innings every year. You really look at it and there’s not that many people who play throughout a whole season in the game.

“I would’ve loved to pitch all the (way) through (2013) but it didn’t happen. So I have to try to find a way to do it this year.”

Keep the Faith. Drink the Dirty Water. Connect with me on Twitter: @jan_doh.