Buchholz benefits from great run support

(The Tampa Bay Rays host the Boston Red Sox, Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.)

The American League’s most methodical starting pitchers will oppose each other in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday night: the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson and the Red Sox’s Clay Buchholz.

This season, Hellickson has averaged 24.4 seconds between pitches, second in the American League among starters behind Buchholz, who averages more than 25 seconds between pitches.

In fact, Boston’s starting pitchers haven’t been shy about taking their time on the mound. Each of the Red Sox's five starters rank in the top seven in terms of slowest paces in the American League this season.

This season, Buchholz is 4-1, but he owns the highest ERA among qualified starters at 8.31. Buchholz has four wins because the Red Sox have provided him with more run support than any other starter in baseball with 9.7 runs per game.

Most Seconds Between Pitches
2012 American League Starters

Buchholz has been even worse on the road. In two starts he has an 11.57 ERA and a 2.46 WHIP.

Buchholz has been so bad this season because everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Buchholz this season:

• Has allowed 10 HR in 39 innings, giving him the highest HR-per-nine-innings-pitched rate at 2.3. (In 28 starts in 2010, Buchholz allowed just nine home runs.)

• Strikes out 4.6 batters per nine innings, which is the lowest rate of his career (career average: 6.7).

• Walks more than five batters per nine innings, the highest rate of his career (career average: 3.8).

• Is one of three starters who has walked more batters than he has struck out (Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe).

What Buchholz has done well is throw first-pitch strikes. He’s tied for the American League lead with Phil Humber at 69.5 percent. However, hitters are jumping all over Buchholz, swinging at 32 percent of his first pitches, the fourth highest rate against any American League starter. When hitters put that pitch in play, their batting average is .357.

Opposing Buchholz will be Hellickson, whose start will be the 203rd straight start for the Rays by a homegrown pitcher. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no other team this season has had every game started by players originally drafted by the organization.

Hellickson this season has allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of his seven starts. The lone exception was on April 14 against the Red Sox, when he allowed five earned runs and a career-high three home runs.

Overall, his 4.99 career ERA against Boston is his highest against any team.

Jeremy Hellickson
By Outs This Season

Hellickson hasn’t been very efficient, throwing 16.8 pitches per inning, which ranks 43rd out of 53 qualified American League starters. (Buchholz has been worse, ranking 46th with 17.5 pitches per inning.)

He’s also struggled to get the final out of innings -- 12 of his 16 walks this season have been issued with two outs.

However, in five starts since his April 14 loss to the Red Sox, Hellickson has a 1.93 ERA. In fact, the Rays' pitching has settled into being the expected dominant pitching staff. In the past 28 games, Tampa Bay is 19-9 with a league-low 2.82 ERA.