No easy answers for Buchholz's struggles

BOSTON -- After Robert Andino took him deep for a three-run homer in the top of the fourth inning on Sunday, Clay Buchholz just stared in at home plate for the longest time, completely still. He may have been gazing at his catcher, perhaps upset with a pitch selection. Maybe plate umpire James Hoye was the target of Buchholz's glare.

More than likely, Buchholz just didn't want to turn around and catch any more of the merry-go-round on the bases. Unfortunately, the sight of opponents running around the diamond is becoming an all-too-familiar one for the struggling righty.

"Pretty frustrated right now," said Buchholz after his ERA soared to 9.09 in what eventually became a 17-inning loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

The Andino home run gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead. Ryan Flaherty and J.J. Hardy followed with hard singles that ended the afternoon for Buchholz, who also walked four in his 3 2/3 innings.

This one-time phenom who threw a no-hitter in his second career start and who nearly won an ERA crown in 2010 now has the distinction of becoming the first Red Sox pitcher in 87 seasons to allow five earned runs or more in six consecutive games. That's an alarming turnaround that may cause the Red Sox to go back to the drawing board.

Manager Bobby Valentine is not ready to do so yet. Or at least not quite ready to consider it. He was still reeling from the marathon loss when the question came in a postgame media session. But his uncertainty spoke to the nature of the situation.

"Clay's performance was not what he wanted it to be, for sure," Valentine said. "Not what I wanted it to be. Left a lot of pitches in a real hittable zone. Gave up a lot of hard-hit balls. ... There were a lot of pitchers used today. He was one of them and I've got to figure out what to do, how to get by with all these guys who really did a yeoman's job today. I have no plans to change them."

Valentine paused before adding to his response, perhaps with Buchholz in mind.

"At this time," he said.

And who could blame him? The Red Sox have actually won half of Buchholz's starts but that was due to a massive amount of run support. More outings such as Sunday's, when the bullpen absolutely needed some length from its starter, will lead to many more results in the wrong column.

Despite diminished velocity (his fastball was sitting around 90, 91 mph) and talk of a possible blister problem five days ago, Buchholz insists he is physically OK. In fact, he feels he is making some good pitches, which makes the results all the more agonizing for him.

He knows that something is missing, but he is not sure what it is.

"I've been upset with myself for the past six weeks," he said. "It's just frustrating to go out there and make some good pitches and still get hit. It's not easy. I have to keep telling myself it's not that easy. It looks easy for some guys but sometimes you have to go through some struggles to get where you want to be. I think that's where I'm at right now. Just gotta find a way through it."

So do the Sox, if indeed they stick with Buchholz through thick and thin. A phantom injury or a demotion to the pen may be necessary. Something, anything, has to stop the merry-go-round.