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BOSTON (CBS) – It was a return three months in the making, but when it was all said and done at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night, it was as if Clay Buchholz hadn’t missed any time for the Boston Red Sox.
The righty was solid in his return from a 94-day absence from the majors, allowing just three singles and a walk while striking out six Rays in Boston’s 2-0 victory. Buchholz threw 74 pitches in his five innings of work, right around the 75-80 limit manager John Farrell set prior to his return.
Buchholz, who made three rehab outings in the minors with mixed results, showed just a few signs of rust in the outing, and his overall crispness on the mound surprised even Farrell.
“With the three outings before rejoining us each one was more consistent. Inside his last outing with each inning he pitched the consistency was coming along, and he carried that through the five innings tonight,” Farrell said after the game. “We’ve got three weeks to continue to build him up. To see him walk to the mound, I think it gave everybody a boost of confidence.”
“To be able to go into a game like this after not pitching for that long, and keep your poise and make it look like any other game, that’s tough to do,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalmacchia. “Everything was crisp; his change-up, curveball, cutter… He’s just a great pitcher.”
“I felt pretty good. I went into a lot of three-ball counts, which was probably the worst thing I could say about it,” Buchholz said of his outing. “It was a night I was able to miss the fat part of the bat, and get some ground balls. Salty throwing out a couple runners helped. Overall, I felt pretty good.”
“Next time out I’ll build it up a little more and hopefully that’s the last pitch count I’ll be on,” said Buchholz.
The most trying time of the evening for Buchholz came before the game, when he said anxiousness took over. But once he took the mound, it was mostly smooth sailing.
In the bottom of the second the Rays managed to get runners on first and second after a Desmond Jennings infield single, but Buchholz struck out Jose Molina to end the threat. Buchholz never faced more than five batters in an inning, and had two 1-2-3 frames (though the fourth ended with a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play), including his final inning of the night.
Buchholz said he labored a bit early on with command of his fastball, but he was very pleased with his change-up and cutter. Farrell said Buchholz’s command of those secondary pitches was the key to earning his 10th win of the season.
“He got a number of outs with (his change-up), a couple of strikeouts, and his cutter; I thought those were the two pitches tonight to keep an aggressive team in check. He had those,” said Farrell.
Buchholz’s return gives the Red Sox another front-end starter for the postseason. With the win, Boston extending their lead in the AL East to 8 1/2 games over the Rays, and their major number to clinch the division is down to 10.
The pitcher knows he was far from perfect in his return, but putting up zeroes against a talented team fighting for a playoff spot and having good command over most of his pitches was a huge boost of confidence going forward.
“Everything feels good. I can work on things as far as throwing more strikes in counts, but I felt good with all the pitches I threw,” said Buchholz. “There are always something to work on; I have five days to do it.”