BOSTON (CBS) — Clay Buchholz took the mound Wednesday night at Fenway Park and for a while, he looked OK. Then came the fifth inning, which turned a promising outing into a typical 2014 Buchholz appearance.
He allowed the Angels to load the bases with no outs on two singles and a walk. He then walked Kole Calhoun with the bases loaded. Up stepped Mike Trout, who hit a ball into right field that managed to fall between Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia. The Sox got an out, but a run crossed the plate.
Albert Pujols singled. Josh Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly. Howie Kendrick singled.
Buchholz got David Freese to ground out to end the inning, but the damage was done. The Angels scored five runs that inning, and it was more than enough to win the game, which they eventually did, 8-3.
“Lost a little bit of feel for a couple of pitches, misfortune … that’s all I got,” a perplexed Buchholz said after the game. “Just missed location with a couple of pitches and they were able to put a big inning together. It’s been a long time since I’ve walked a run in, so that didn’t help. Just a couple of balls that they hit found some holes and they scored five.
“I felt good with just about every pitch. Just when they loaded the bases with nobody out and you have Trout up, get him to mishit one and it didn’t go our way, and it sort of snowballed after that.”
Buchholz’s final line had him allowing six runs, all earned, on seven hits and two walks while striking out five over six innings. His ERA now sits at 5.94, more than three times higher than last season’s 1.74 ERA. Buchholz said the discrepancy between his performance last year and this year has less to do with factors within his own control.
“Yeah, I mean … The difference between everything that’s going on last year and this year is just a lot of the balls that are finding holes or are home runs or doubles, they were hit at somebody last year and I got a lot of double plays that way,” Buchholz said. “Sometimes, that’s the way it goes. You don’t ever want it to be a full season, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. You’ve got to keep grinding.”
Clearly, Buchholz is a big believer in BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, and specifically, he buys into the notion that “luck” is often the difference between a good number and a bad number. And certainly, opposing hitters are finding much more success vs. Buchholz this year, as evidenced by the pitcher’s .339 BABIP. Last year, that number was .255, the best of his career.
Yet much more goes into that BABIP number than “misfortune” and “balls finding holes.” When a pitcher can break off a devastating breaking ball that dives through the strike zone and toward the dirt, he’s going to induce bad contact more often than the pitcher who leaves flat, belt-high fastballs over the plate.
And on this night at Fenway, Buchholz was both of those pitchers.
“Through the first four [innings], I thought he was sharp,” manager John Farrell said. “He had good, late action to his stuff. In the fifth, when he got ahead of a couple of hitters, he didn’t have the same finishing pitch he had shown through the previous four. They were able to put some people on, we have a miscommunication on a ball in short right field that contributed to that. They found some holes, they bunched some hits and some walks for the five runs.”
For Buchholz, it’s just more of the same. Though his overall numbers were stellar last year, his 2.26 ERA from May 6 through the end of the season, as well as his 4.35 ERA in 20.2 postseason innings, were a sign of things to come. This season, he’s allowed four or more runs in 12 of his 21 starts.
Comparing last year to this year, the differences in his line drive/ground ball/fly ball percentages are almost nil. The major difference that jumps off is his fly ball-to-home run ratio. Last year, it was at 4.5 percent. This year, it’s at 10.9 percent.
So on the one hand, Buchholz isn’t completely wrong to say the major difference between last year and this year is that more balls are finding holes or flying over fences. On the other hand, it is within Buchholz’s control to prevent those hits from rocketing through the infield.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t have a feel for any pitch, it was just the big pitches that I needed to make, I didn’t make them,” Buchholz said. “I left balls over the plate that they were able to hit, walked a couple guys. Put runners on for free, and they end up scoring somehow it seems like all the time. So it’s another learning experience.”
Another learning experience, yet Buchholz doesn’t seemed to have retained much from his other dozen or so learning experiences this season. He’s had enough learning experiences. It’s time to actually figure it out.
Tim Britton of the Providence Journal joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Adam Jones and Albert Breer, filling in for Toucher & Rich Thursday morning, to discuss Buchholz: