Clay Buchholz will make his first start at Fenway Park on Tuesday in almost exactly a year. Last July 29, he pitched into the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Angels and probably would have emerged with a pretty decent-looking line if not for a Garret Anderson home run and a couple of inherited runners relief pitcher Craig Hansen allowed to score.
Buchholz wouldn't see the seventh inning again that season. He left after six unspectacular innings in Kansas City a week later, failed to get out of the fourth inning in Chicago a week after that and was sent back to the minor leagues for good after getting knocked around in the third inning against Baltimore at Camden Yards.
Now, though, he's back in the major leagues and looking to reverse that trajectory. Below is an interview conducted on Friday for this story that ran in Sunday's Union Leader:
Now that you've got two starts under your belt, how do you feel like everything is going?
"The first start, it was really nerve-wracking, the first time back up, all that stuff. The last start, I felt like everything from the first batter of the game, there was a lot of stuff going on – people on base every inning. I didn’t have any 1-2-3 innings, and I had to throw a lot of pitches.
"I’m better right now than where I was last year when everything was going on. I don’t think anything is bad. I’ve got to make a few adjustments on the curveball to get the curveball in the strike zone more consistently, and instead of having just two pitches to work with throughout the first four or five pitches in the game, I’ll throw that one in there and see what else happens. I feel good with everything that’s going on so far."
What goes into the decision to not throw the curveball as much as you normally might?
"I hadn’t really had my good curveball like I normally do probably the last three times I’ve been out. My last start in Pawtucket, it didn’t feel right, and in Toronto, it felt different than it normally does. I’m working on that right now, trying to get that back in the mix to where I can use it on a more consistent basis."
Having already made your debut once but then spending a year away for the major leagues, how is it different this time around?
"The first time I came up, I didn’t know anything else except what I’d been doing, so I came up and rolled with all the punches thrown at me. Last year, being sent down and this year, being my first time back up, I think I was more nervous, from that aspect, coming back up after being gone for a while – not to try to prove a point but to show everybody that I worked hard to get to where I was at this whole year and am trying to keep it that way."
Do you worry much about pitch efficiency -- like throwing 90 pitches in four innings at Texas -- or is that something that comes with time?
"That comes from trying not to let them hit it. That was the comment I made the other day: I’ve had a lot of quick innings throughout this year with throwing it in the zone and letting them hit it at somebody. But whenever you’ve got your guys (on offense), you're trying to help them out, trying to keep runs off the board and get on a roll. I feel like it’s coming pretty soon. This team’s full of great hitters, and it’s only a matter of time before the sticks roll around.
"But I was trying to give them a way to come in and score some runs and start a little winning streak here. I started picking at the corners instead of throwing it over the middle and letting them hit it. In deep counts, you throw a lot of pitches. I’ve done that a couple of times this year, though."
Is that a matter of attacking a major-league lineup differently than you'd attack a minor-league lineup?
"No, I’ve gotten pulled in the fourth or fifth inning at Pawtucket a couple of games for being at 92 or 93 pitches. It just comes with throwing strikes, I guess. I threw a lot of strikes the other night, but when it came to the counts where I needed to put them away, I had three 0-2 counts, and all three of them ended up getting on base. That’ll get your pitch total up a little bit.
"It’s just not being scared to throw it – if you make a mistake and throw it over the plate, maybe they hit it and get a hit or maybe they hit it at somebody or maybe they don’t hit it at all. Instead of just trying to make them swing and miss, I pick to contact. That’s the key."
Does the July 31 trading deadline mean anything to you, at least to the extent that you'll be relieved when it's past?
"No, you can’t go out on the field and worry about things that are out of your control. It’s been that way all year. I’ve had people go out and ask me about the trade talks and everything throughout this whole season. It is what it is. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I’m here, and I’m hoping I’ll go out there every fifth day and help this team win."