BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz is capable of great things on the mound. A quick glance at his numbers last season suggest as much. His phenomenal 2010 campaign is further proof. There was the no-hitter in his second career start in 2007.
However, Buchholz's career path reads like a volatile stock report with wild fluctuations in impact season to season and even within particular seasons (as in 2013, when he dominated for two months before sitting with a neck strain for three). After a rocky performance in his 2014 debut on a crisp Saturday night at Fenway Park, the search for consistency continues.
At the very least, he has the problem pegged.
"Missed with a lot of pitches tonight. When I did [hit the target], they seemed to put the barrel on it and find some holes," said Buchholz, who gave up six runs on a career-high 13 hits in 4⅓ innings of a 7-6 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. "Obviously, the couple of home runs they hit were pitches not where they were supposed to be. Just a lot of mistakes that they found holes for."
Buchholz's fastball sat around 89-90 mph, a decline from his career norms. However, his velocity has dipped consistently over the past few seasons, and he proved before getting hurt last season that it mattered little. The righty was absolutely dominant with more ordinary numbers on the radar gun.
Aside from having some issues getting warm (the game-time temperature was 48 degrees, with a stiff wind blowing out), there was nothing physically wrong with Buchholz on Saturday. In fact, manager John Farrell thought Buchholz looked as strong as he did during a successful spring training. Again, it was just a matter of location.
"Clay would throw some pitches at the bottom of the strike zone, follow it up with either a changeup that was up or a breaking ball that was up, fastball might have been up at times. More than anything, it was mislocation to stuff," Farrell said.
Farrell added that the velocity was in line with spring training's. Perhaps the only alarm came in the number of times the contact was so solid.
"Uncharacteristic, because even on days when he hasn't had his best stuff, there's always been the ability to manipulate the baseball and move the ball off the bat head," Farrell said. "To their credit, they didn't miss many pitches up."
With another 30 starts or so to come, barring injury, Buchholz searched for a silver lining in all the hard hits, which included the first two home runs he has given up at Fenway Park since 2012.
"Yeah, you don't want to give up that many hits ever, but they were swinging early, and that's what I want teams to do," said Buchholz, who did not walk a batter. "I want them to swing. I want them to put balls in play. I've got to do a better job of limiting that and obviously putting pitches where I want to. I wasn't able to do that at all tonight really. That's the way the game goes sometimes. Got to figure it out before next time out."
Other members of the team also saw positives in the effort of a bullpen that allowed one run in 6⅔ innings while striking out 15. Chris Capuano, Brandon Workman, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa held the Brewers scoreless though the 10th before Burke Badenhop allowed what proved to be the winning run in the 11th.
Some took pride in battling back from an early four-run deficit to tie it in the sixth, but not everyone was willing to see the glass half full.
"No moral victories in this game. You win or you lose," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who also offered up his take on Buchholz.
"Yeah, I know what Clay has, and I know what he's capable of. He was trying to battle. He made mistakes, and [the Brewers] didn't miss. One of those nights."
Buchholz is in line to pitch Friday at Yankee Stadium. If he returns to form and shuts down the New York Yankees, it will be another fluctuation in a quest for consistency.