FORT MYERS, Fla. — Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell prefers to take a head count of healthy bodies before he announces his choice of starting pitcher for Opening Day. That’s why there has been no official acknowledgment that Clay Buchholz will draw that assignment April 6 in Philadelphia, even though Farrell set up his rotation at the start of spring training with Buchholz in mind and has not deviated from that schedule.
Buchholz was still standing at the end of his latest spring exercise, Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves in Kissimmee that came to a premature end in the seventh inning because of heavy rain. So, assuming Buchholz remains in an upright position after his final spring tune-up next Wednesday, the manager might decide it’s safe to confirm his choice of the 30-year-old right-hander to inaugurate the 2015 season.
Operating under that assumption, then, we take the liberty of offering you a few nuggets related to the first Opening Day assignment of Buchholz’s career.
Buchholz is scheduled to become the 10th pitcher to start an opener for the Red Sox since 1988, when Roger Clemens made the first of his eight Opening Day starts—seven straight, interrupted by Aaron Sele in 1995, before the Rocket made his last opening start for the Sox in 1996. Tom Gordon started the first opener after Clemens’ departure in 1997, followed by seven straight opening starts for Pedro Martinez. Curt Schilling started in 2005 and 2006, Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007, Josh Beckett in 2008 and 2009, and Jon Lester made the last four Opening Day starts before signing with the Chicago Cubs.
Lester was 1-1 with two no-decisions in his four Opening Day starts. Last season, he gave up two runs in seven innings but lost to the Orioles 2-1.
Buchholz has a better exhibition record this season (2-2, 3.60 ERA in 15 innings, 18 strikeouts, 3 walks) than Lester (0-1, 6.48 ERA in 8 1/3 innings, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts and one missed start because of “dead arm.")
The Phillies went 73-89 last season. In 63 appearances (62 starts) against teams with a sub-.500 records, Buchholz is 32-12 with a 3.38 ERA.
In Buchholz’s first starts in April, he has a 7.11 ERA, allowing 45 hits and 25 earned runs in 31 2/3 innings.
Buchholz is 13-10 with a 4.53 ERA in his career in April. Last season, he was 1-2 with a 6.60 ERA in April, the opening act of his worst season in the big leagues. But go back one season, when Buchholz was healthy, and he was spectacular in April, going 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA, with 39 strikeouts and 13 walks in 37 2/3 innings. Buchholz went at least seven innings in all five of his starts and allowed no more than two earned runs in any of them. A start like that in 2015 and Lester’s name fades from the conversation in Boston.
As for Friday’s game, Buchholz gave up 12 hits and did not have a single clean inning, although he pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. All of Atlanta’s runs were delivered by former Sox players — Pedro Ciriaco, who hit a three-run double, and Kelly Johnson, who homered just before the rain came. Johnson’s career with the Sox lasted 30 days. He was acquired at the trading deadline from the Yankees for Stephen Drew, then was traded to the Orioles on Aug. 30 for Jemile Weeks. He signed with the Braves as a free agent in January.
Mookie Betts, with ESPN’s TV cameras on the scene, turned in another Mookie-in-spring performance, leading off the game with a single, stealing a base, making a diving catch and hitting a two-run home run off Braves ace Julio Teheran. He’s batting .487 this spring.
Robbie Ross kept himself in the left-handed reliever competition with a scoreless inning, including two strikeouts.