MIAMI -- Clay Buchholz was sent to Pawtucket in 2008 after struggling. Same thing happened in 2009. And though the Boston Red Sox this year thought it best to let Daniel Bard spend a few outings facing Triple-A competition, they stuck with Buchholz despite a rocky start.
Are they ever glad they did.
Buchholz pitched another gem Tuesday, striking out a season-high nine batters in seven innings in a 2-1 win over the Miami Marlins and helping the Red Sox break a four-game losing streak.
Buchholz carried a 9.09 ERA after his first six starts, but the 27-year-old right-hander has figured it out since. His ERA is down to 5.38 as he's allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his last four starts and in five of his last six.
In three starts in June, he’s 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA, with 22 strikeouts in 24 innings. The Red Sox have won just twice in their last nine games, and Buchholz has won them both.
“A lot of work’s gone into it,” Buchholz said. “The first couple weeks out were pretty tough. I had to find a way to battle back and get through it, knowing that I’ve done it before.”
Now Buchholz’s confidence -- and the team’s confidence in him -- is sky-high. On Tuesday, he allowed a first-inning leadoff triple to Jose Reyes, but was unshaken, stranding Reyes at third.
“I think it’s about 89 percent,” catcher Kelly Shoppach said of the probability of a team scoring with a runner on third and no one out. “That’s how we treated it, too. Whatever, that guy’s going to score.”
But Reyes didn’t because Buchholz got three swinging strikeouts to end the inning, retiring Omar Infante and Hanley Ramirez on changeups and Giancarlo Stanton on a curve. “He was in control of each one,” Shoppach said. “It looked like he saw and felt no pressure.”
Buchholz helped place a golden sombrero on Stanton’s head (0-for-4, four strikeouts), whiffing the Marlins’ slugger three times. Similarly confident, Sox reliever Vicente Padilla pumped three mid-90s fastballs past Stanton to end the eighth inning.
“That’s his best pitch. We weren’t going to get beat with anything else,” Shoppach said.
Buchholz, who has been mixing in a split-finger pitch taught to him by Josh Beckett last month, had his fastball working and off-speed pitches diving out of the zone. He gave Boston hope it could survive despite an offense that has averaged three runs per game over its last nine.
When Buchholz shut the door in the first inning, the Sox felt a little bigger in the batter’s box.
“It’s not like our offense came alive after that or anything, but at least we knew we had a chance,” Valentine said.
Shoppach was the main contributor. After doubling in the second -- the Red Sox’s only hit through the first 6 1/3 innings -- Shoppach hit an RBI double off Mark Buehrle to open the scoring in the seventh. He came home on Mike Aviles’ RBI single. Aviles was 1-for-4. Darnell McDonald (2-for-4) and Will Middlebrooks (1-for-4) were the only other Sox players to collect hits.
Boston’s offensive struggles aren’t puzzling, Shoppach said. “You need timely hitting. You just need to do it at the right time,” he said. “We did, and they didn’t.”
The Marlins sliced the lead in half in the seventh, when Buchholz allowed a line-shot solo homer to Logan Morrison. Buchholz shook it off and finished the inning at 103 pitches, down from his last three starts, when he threw 125, 108 and 111. Blame a warm South Florida night and an open-roof ballpark for that.
“I’m usually not a big sweater, but I was soaking wet after I got out there tonight,” Buchholz said. “That was the toughest part of it, staying mentally prepared even as the legs were tired in the sixth inning.”
The Red Sox have plenty to sort out, but they’re thankful they can lean on Buchholz while doing so.
“I was down,” he said. “The Red Sox stuck with me and I appreciate that.”
“I’ve seen it a million times,” Shoppach said. “Guys get confidence, then they have no fear.”