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Closing Time: Clay Buchholz shelled as Red Sox drop 6th straight

05.21.14 at 10:36 pm ET
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Clay Buchholz has allowed 71 hits in 47 innings this year. (AP)

Clay Buchholz has allowed 71 hits in 47 innings this year. (AP)

This is not the Clay Buchholz the Red Sox are used to, and certainly not the one they need.

It was just a year ago that Buchholz, though battling through some injuries, went 12-1 with a minuscule 1.74 ERA in 16 starts. He was giving up just over six hits per nine innings and had posted his highest strikeouts per nine innings mark (an even 8.0 K’€™s per nine) since 2008, his first full year in the majors.

But he’€™s rarely, if ever, looked like that Buchholz in 2014. Wednesday night was more of the same for the struggling starter as he stumbled through 4 2/3 innings of work, allowing five runs (one was unearned) on nine hits while walking two and striking out two.

Buchholz barely made it out of the second inning, throwing 47 pitches through the first couple of innings (34 in the second inning alone). He allowed a leadoff home run to the red-hot Edwin Encarnacion before issuing a couple of walks and singles with a fly out sandwiched in between. Somehow he managed to escape with just two runs allowed. The third inning wouldn’€™t go much better, with Adam Lind hitting a long triple into the deepest part of center field, and Encarnacion following up with his second home run of the game (and fourth in two games), taking a hanging curve deep into the Monster seats. It was the seventh home run he’s given up through 47 innings this year; he allowed only four in 108 1/3 innings last season.

We talked and made some adjustments the last couple innings and he threw the ball better hopefully it carries over to his next start,” said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. “The first couple innings I thought he was a little methodical, a little slow, and that’s been an issue in the past and we really wanted him to find a way to get going and pick up the pace a little bit. He did that and in the last innings you saw the results. Hopefully he’ll learn from it and get better.”

“[He showed] inconsistent command. Far too many at-bats where he pitched behind in the count. Uncharacteristic, from what we know of Clay, is that mistakes found their way to the middle of the plate,” manager John Farrell said. “We found ourselves down quickly 4-0, and we’re digging out of a hole from the third inning on. I thought there was better finish to his stuff from the middle of the third inning to, unfortunately, the time he came out of the game, but physically there’s no complaints, no issues. We’ve got to make either an adjustment or a correction mechanically because too many misfires up to the arm side.”

Added Farrell: “Tonight, I thought, in the second and the third inning, he was rushing. His body was ahead of the arm. It didn’t catch up. That’s where you saw a number of pitches up in the strike zone. When he did get the ball down, it found its way to the middle of the plate. At this point, to me, it looks mechanical in nature.”

There didn’t seem to be any truly effective pitch for Buchholz on Wednesday night. His command escaped him early on, throwing strikes with fewer than half of his pitches in the first two innings. Five of the nine hits on the evening (including the first four) came off of the fastball, while two came off the curveball, one each off the change and the cutter. Fifteen of the 21 balls put in play were in the air, which is consistent with Buchholz’€™s dipping ground ball rates this season.

Buchholz’€™s velocity was not markedly different than it has been all year; he sat between 90 and 92 with his fastball, occasionally reaching a touch higher. But when compared to 2013, his velocity is down, and down by a lot. He averaged almost 93 miles per hour on his two-seamer a year ago, while it’€™s sitting around 90.5 mph through his first eight starts of 2014 (not counting Wednesday night). He’€™s also lost about a mile an hour on his cutter. In 2013, 9.2 percent of strikes Buchholz threw were swung on and missed, while that number has sunk to 7.5 percent in 2014. He induced two swinging strikes on the night.

“As far as stuff goes, I felt like I had the best stuff velocity-wise that I’ve had all year,” Buchholz said. “There’s absolutely nothing physical bothering me it’s tough to go out there and if you miss one pitch, it gets hit every time. It’s where I’m at right now. I’m frustrated.”

Buchholz now is 2-4 with a 6.32 ERA and 1.851 WHIP through his first nine starts of the season. He’s allowing an average of 13.6 hits per nine innings.

“Honestly, I’m trying. I’m not trying to go out there and give up home runs to every batter that walks up to the plate so it’s just one of those things, you’ve got to grind through it, just like a batter going 0-for-15, at some time they break out of it,” Buchholz said.

The question now looms over the Red Sox in giant letters: What’s wrong with Clay Buchholz? A lot of signs point to the issue being a mechanical one, but could a physical problem be hindering those mechanics? And is something other than taking the mound once every five days the way to figure it out?

Farrell says that the issue is not a physical one, and the team has no plans to remove Buchholz from the rotation.

“There’s no plan at this point to remove him from the rotation. It’s upon us to make the necessary adjustments to eliminate the number of mistakes, and that’s where he’s been hurt most — he’s mislocated pitches,” Farrell said.

However, a Red Sox team that has now lost six straight games and that has slid to a season-worst five games under .500 needs to start finding answers quickly.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

David Ortiz is going through a rough patch. He came into the game 0-for-his-last-8, and things didn’t get better for him on Wednesday, going 0-for-5 and at one point flinging a bat into the ground after he popped up a fastball in his wheelhouse. After a 10-game hitting streak, he’€™s 0-for-his-last-13.

– Shaking up the order helped the Red Sox score four runs (including three in the late innings) but the top of the order hardly contributed. Grady Sizemore put up an eight-pitch at-bat to draw a walk to lead off the game, but he would finish the night going 0-for-4 while striking out with the bases loaded in the sixth and with two runners on in the eighth. He’s 1-for-16 with 12 groundouts during the homestand. Dustin Pedroia had a tough game as well; he did have a hit (a single in the third) but three runners on base. He also reached on an error.

– The Red Sox just cannot find a way to contain Encarnacion. The first baseman scalded two home runs and drove in three runs after clubbing two home runs and driving in four runs just the night before. He’s 7-for-17 with 10 runs driven in against the Red Sox this season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– Batting lower in the lineup due to his lack of production against lefties this season, Shane Victorino knocked his first home run of 2014 off of right-handed starter Drew Hutchison. Coming into the game, he was managing just a .232/.279/.339 line against same-handed pitching, while he had just six extra-base hits to his credit prior to Wednesday.

– After a self-described “tough day” for the infielder on Tuesday, with the news that he would be moving to third base to accommodate Stephen DrewXander Bogaerts had a big day at the plate. He continues to swing a good bat, going 3-for-4 with a double and two singles on the night. The 21-year-old is 13-for-33 with three doubles, a triple and home run in his last nine games, good for a 394/.444/.636 line.

“Even earlier [Wednesday], he felt like yesterday was a one-day occurrence,” Farrell said. “That was obvious by the way he played tonight and defensively the way he swung the bat. A quick turnaround for him.”

Mike Carp gave the Red Sox a little life in the late innings, doubling deep to center and driving in a run. The first baseman went 2-for-3 with a walk, and has seven hits in 20 at-bats since the beginning of May.

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