Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Buchholz can't put away Blue Jays

Clay Buchholz started Kevin Millar fastball-curveball-fastball with two outs in the third inning, getting quickly to a two-strike count and putting himself in position to end the inning.

He chose that point to throw his curveball -- his best pitch.

Millar was waiting for it, and he crushed it into the Green Monster seats.

"I felt like a pretty good job with the majority of the guys getting ahead in the count and getting two-strike counts," he said. "The execution of the two-strike pitches wasn't near as sharp as they needed to be to get those guys out consistently. ... If you make mistakes like that to a team that can hit, you see what happens."

It wasn't as though the Blue Jays lucked into seven runs in five innings against a pitcher who had allowed just six runs in his previous six starts. Jose Bautista hit a bomb of a home run over the Green Monster on the first pitch Buchholz threw, and Adam Lind deposited a two-strike changeup into the first row of the center-field seats later in the first inning.

Miller and Aaron Hill later joined the party, and Lind hit two more home runs -- though one of those was a Pesky Pole special off Takashi Saito -- en route to a general thrashing of Buchholz, the first time anyone had done anything against him in more than a month.

"They were sitting soft, especially late in the count," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "They got some changeups up. ... They did a good job of picking out one speed with Buck. He was elevating a little bit, and they hit it a long way."

But it wasn't just a matter of picking a speed.

"There's other teams that have sat on it before, too, and his changeup's so good they don't hit it," Francona said. "The ball was elevated a little bit. Good hitters don't need help."

Buchholz had flummoxed his share of good hitters in his previous six starts -- including those same Blue Jays, against whom he threw 8 1/3 sensational innings exactly a month ago.

But the Blue Jays made an adjustment in this one, allowing Buchholz to get into two-strike counts and then waiting for him to come with a changeup or a curveball, his two best put-away pitches. Had those pitches looked as sharp as they have in the past month, it might not have been an issue -- but his changeup didn't have as much dive as it did in his last start:

(against Kansas City on Sept. 24)

(against Toronto on Tuesday)

Check out the yellow dots and where they registered on the scale of vertical movement. The home run Lind hit in the first inning came on a changeup that was flat and straight, and Lind Bernie Carbo'd the thing.

"I threw some changeups that were supposed to be on one side of the plate and went to the other and were up at the thighs," he said. "If you're sitting on it and you get it at the thigh, it's a hard pitch to miss."

That was particularly the case at the time when a pitcher is supposed to be at his most lethal -- with two strikes. On four of the first seven occasions in which Buchholz got two strikes on a hitter, he failed to finish him off. Three of the five home runs the Blue Jays hit off him came with two strikes.

"I just got to the kill counts, and I didn't throw the pitches where they needed to be," he said. "I don't necessarily think I threw the wrong pitches at the wrong time. Maybe the location of them weren't up to par tonight. They sat on them, and they hit them."

Buchholz has exploded as a prospect over the past couple of months thanks in large part to improved command of and confidence in his fastball. But he can't just throw fastballs -- particularly given that his secondary pitches are his best pitches.

The Blue Jays were sitting on his offspeed pitches. He could't command his offspeed pitches. What's a pitcher to do?

Buchholz didn't have an answer out on the mound -- and he didn't have an answer after the game, either.

"It's a tough question," he said. "I don't know. I've relied a lot on my offspeed a lot this year in big situation. I could have thrown 100 percent fastballs, but you can second-guess that, too. I gave up five long home runs, and the team still came back and almost took the game back. You've got to take what you're given sometimes."

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