BOSTON -- As alarming as 10 hits allowed in six innings can be for a pitcher, for Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz such a stat line represented a continued positive development.
Sure, the hits weren’t ideal. But such is the territory with another walk-free outing for the right-hander, his fourth in five starts since returning from the disabled list June 25, a span in which he’s pitched 35 2/3 innings and allowed just one walk. Friday night’s 5-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals marked Buchholz’s fifth win of the season and third since his return.
“He’s been outstanding,” manager John Farrell said. “He was on the plate, so they’re going to get some hits, but he didn’t compound things by issuing any base on balls and potential, additional runners. He’s confident that he’s going to execute the pitch.”
Coming off an outing in which he struck out 12 Houston Astros without allowing a walk in a complete-game shutout, Buchholz was touched for a run in the first before settling in to retire seven straight from the last out of the first to the last out of the third. Then came an aggressive Royals rally to kick off the fourth -- four consecutive hits in a span of 13 pitches that resulted in an early 3-1 lead.
“It was tough; they were swinging when I was trying to get ahead in the count,” Buchholz said. “They were swinging at all the pitches I was trying to get ahead in the count with and hitting them.”
After Alex Gordon hit the second RBI single of the inning on a first-pitch fastball, Buchholz had runners on first and third with still no outs and Billy Butler stepping to the plate. Butler grounded into a force out at second, where Dustin Pedroia decided to forgo the possible double play and instead hold Salvador Perez at third. The play soon loomed large as Mike Moustakas then grounded into a fielder’s choice that allowed Mike Napoli to tag Perez out between third and home. Next up was Alcides Escobar, who Buchholz quickly got to fly out to left, escaping the inning with only two runs allowed.
“They were bunching their hits against [Buchholz],” Farrell said. “We were able to make some good heads-up decisions on the infield and prevent further runs from scoring.”
Buchholz showed similar appreciation toward his teammates' contributions in the inning.
“A couple of good defensive plays that inning to minimize the damage,” Buchholz said. “That’s key to ... not give up that four or five runs in the inning.”
Having allowed another run in the fifth, Buchholz left after six down 4-1 at 104 pitches. Once again his teammates came through for him, scoring four runs on the strength of two-run home runs from Xander Bogaerts and Jonny Gomes -- his of the pinch-hit variety -- to send him home with the win.
“The way the guys fought back tonight -- that was sort of reminiscent of them last year,” Buchholz said.
Eerily so, actually. Buchholz’s only start of 2013 against the Royals came on April 20, opposite James Shields as it was Friday night. Down 2-1 after throwing eight strong innings, the Red Sox, led by a Gomes pinch-hit double, rallied with a three-run eighth inning to take the lead and keep Buchholz undefeated for the early part of the season.
Although seemingly unspectacular in the grand scheme of the Red Sox championship season, that one game had a special significance to all of Boston -- it was the team’s first game played at Fenway after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Now Buchholz finds himself on a similar roll like he did to start 2013, throwing six innings in each of his past five starts for the first time since doing so in 10 straight outings from April 3 to May 22 of last year. Although he said his approach on the mound hasn’t been focused on not issuing walks, Buchholz understands that his newfound control has played a major factor in his recent success.
“It’s good not to walk anybody -- it makes it a little bit tougher to be out there when walks are scoring,” Buchholz said. “If they work their way onto the base and they score that way, it’s a little bit easier to swallow.”