An All-Star candidate? Red Sox might have one in Clay Buchholz

BOSTON -- With the All-Star Game just six weeks away, no Boston Red Sox player has a ghost of a chance to be elected an American League starter. Usual suspects such as David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia lagged more than 1.5 million votes behind the leaders at their position, a gap not even the vaunted Kennedy machine could close.

Pablo Sandoval, a two-time All-Star with the Giants, ranked third among third-base candidates but was nearly 2 million votes behind Mike Moustakas of the Royals. Hanley Ramirez, a three-time All-Star in the National League, was an also-ran in the outfield. And that's ignoring the obvious -- with the way the Sox played in the first two months, no one with the possible exception of Koji Uehara has made much of a case for All-Star consideration, and there are a ton of AL closers having big years.

But overlooked in the wreckage of a 10-19 May has been the emergence of a right-handed starter in the Sox rotation who is on a nice little run of five starts in which he has posted a 1.92 ERA (eight earned runs in 37 innings), shaving his overall ERA from an unsightly 6.03 to a far more respectable 3.82. He is striking out hitters at the highest rate of his career (9.2 per nine), and walking fewer batters, too.

Not only is it time for Red Sox fans to start trusting Clay Buchholz again -- admittedly a proposition fraught with risk -- but it's time for someone to alert Royals manager Ned Yost (who will be managing the AL 'Stars) that he should have Buchholz on his radar. Yost shouldn't let the 3-6 won-loss record throw him; Buchholz has left seven of his 11 starts with just one run on the board in his favor. The only way you can win in those circumstances is to do what Buchholz did Tuesday night, throwing eight scoreless innings at the Minnesota Twins in a 1-0 shutout finished off by Uehara.

Buchholz has been named an All-Star twice before, in 2010 and 2013, but injuries kept him from pitching in either game. He should have at least five more starts before the All-Star pitchers are chosen, but given that every team is required to have at least one representative, the opportunity is there for Buchholz to demonstrate his worthiness.

And while he's doing so, Buchholz could well put to rest a reputation for being undependable, whether by being erratic or hurt or both. From the outset of spring training, Sox starters have had everything short of their manhood questioned, so deep-seated is the skepticism that they could form a winning combination. But Buchholz has led the charge toward a grudging acknowledgment that these guys might not be as bad as they've been made out to be.

"In my view there's a pretty clear feel of what to expect when he goes to the mound," manager John Farrell said even before Buchholz beat the Twins. "And of late, it's been quality performances, it's been six to eight innings. I think he's handled some situations with men in scoring position much more consistently than, say, four weeks ago. There's a very good level of dependability right now."

The skepticism could come flooding back as soon as Wednesday's day-night double-header, in which Rick Porcello will try to rebound from back-to-back stinkers and Eduardo Rodriguez will try to show his dazzling debut last week was no mirage. But it could just as easily break the other way if Porcello and Rodriguez deliver encores to Buchholz's virtuosity Tuesday night.

Buchholz wasn't even feeling well Tuesday night ("Definitely not 100 percent," he said); he'd been battling an illness for the previous couple of days. But he couldn't have been sharper than he was with a five-pitch mix against the Twins. He threw just 92 pitches in eight innings, no more than 11 in any one inning (the fifth). He threw 21 out of 28 first-pitch strikes and allowed just one base-runner as far as second. He induced 14 swings-and-misses, six on his changeup, and sat at 91-92 mph velocity all game, brushing 94.

All this against a team he'd faced just a week ago, when the Twins swept three in Minnesota and had the league's best record in May (20-7).

"Outstanding performance by Clay," Farrell said, noting how poorly Buchholz felt in the days leading up to the start. "He gave us everything he had."

Where has the improvement come from?

"I think there has been some increase in velocity," Farrell said. "There has also been a greater emphasis on his part to using both sides of the plate. He's kept a number of hitters honest a little more, and he's in a better position to execute his delivery. That's why you see the swings-and-misses on his changeup and curveball."

Buchholz has in the past given extended looks at just how good he can be but has never been able to sustain it over a full season, usually because of physical breakdowns. But if he can stay healthy, what seemed a far-fetched notion a month ago is increasingly becoming a possibility: Clay Buchholz, three-time All-Star.