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Clay Buchholz showing flashes of 2013, emerging as Red Sox’ staff ace

06.24.15 at 11:26 pm ET
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Clay Buchholz has an ERA of 2.28 over his last eight starts. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Clay Buchholz has an ERA of 2.28 over his last eight starts. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

In a season lacking positives, there’s one player who has quietly gone under the radar as one of the biggest positives on the Red Sox roster of late and maybe a player least expected to be one.

That player is Clay Buchholz.

After his sixth start of the season Buchholz had an ERA of 6.03 and was getting mocked left-and-right for being the Red Sox‘ so-called ace. But, since then Buchholz has actually been just that — the ace of the Red Sox’ rotation.

Following his seven inning, one-run performance in the Red Sox’ 5-1 win over the Orioles Wednesday, Buchholz’s ERA is now 3.68, a full 2.35 lower than it was at the beginning of May.

Since May 14, over his last eight starts, he has an ERA of 2.28 and is unbeaten in his last five starts with the Red Sox winning four of those games.

The way he’s pitched of late has drawn some comparisons to how he was at the start of the 2013 season when he went 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA before missing three months with a shoulder injury.

“I think he’s been as strong start to start in terms of run strength and overall stuff this year equal to 2013 prior to the shoulder ailment that he went through,” manager John Farrell said. “But the percentage of strikes is extremely high every night he walks to the mound. He has such an uncanny ability to manipulate the baseball and change speeds as he did tonight, but he’s in a pretty solid run for us here over a high number of starts.”

Against the Orioles Wednesday, the right-hander had control of all of his pitches. According to Brooksbaseball.net, he threw 31 fastballs, 24 changeups, 12 curveballs and 32 cutters. On those pitches he got 13 swing and misses.

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Closing Time: Red Sox win overshadowed by injuries to Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia

06.24.15 at 9:48 pm ET
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Hanley Ramirez (pictured) along with Dustin Pedroia both left Wednesday's game with injuries (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Hanley Ramirez (pictured) along with Dustin Pedroia both left Wednesday’s game with injuries. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

While the Red Sox showed some grit, coming back from a 1-0 deficit following a tough loss Tuesday night, the win was overshadowed by two injuries occurring during the game.

Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia both left the game in the Red Sox‘ 5-1 win over the Orioles Wednesday at Fenway Park, as the Sox scored five times in the sixth inning taking advantage of two Baltimore errors.

Ramirez left the game following the bottom of the fifth when he was struck on the left wrist by a line drive from Xander Bogaerts on a hit-and-run play when Ramirez was running to second base. It was announced as a left hand contusion. He saw the ball, but couldn’t get out of the way.

Pedroia left the game following a single in the sixth, when it appeared he suffered the injury rounding first base. The team announced the injury as right hamstring tightness.

“We’re still in the process of gathering all the information,” manager John Farrell said. “There’s advanced imaging going on for both Pedey and Hanley. The injuries are what everyone saw, but we don’t have full information yet.”

After the Orioles scored the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, the Red Sox came right back in the bottom half of the inning thanks to some sloppy Orioles defense.

Following two errors, Mookie Betts made them pay with a sharp single to right scoring Alejandro De Aza, who had reached on an error to leadoff the frame. Following a Brock Holt ground out to advance two runners, Pedroia came through with a two-run single to left (the play he was injured on) to put the Red Sox on top, 3-1 at the time.

The next batter David Ortiz then crushed a Bud Norris offering over the center field wall for a two-run homer to give the Red Sox the 5-1 lead. None of the runs in the inning were earned.

Clay Buchholz was once again solid for the Red Sox. The right-hander went seven innings allowing one run on eight hits while walking one and striking seven. The Red Sox have won four of his last five starts and his ERA has now fallen to 3.68 on the season.

“Lot of strikes and a constant mix of all his pitches,” Farrell said. “There wasn’t any one sequence that he would repeat. Started a number of guys off with a number of different pitches and again just with a constant change of speed for him tonight. He’s been very dependable for us and seven strong innings tonight. Good to see him go out and put up a zero after we scored the five. But led the way for us tonight.”

Junichi Tazawa struck out the side in the eighth inning and Koji Uehara tossed a scoreless ninth to close out the win.

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Hanley Ramirez (left hand contusion), Dustin Pedroia (right hamstring tightness) both leave game vs. Orioles

06.24.15 at 9:03 pm ET
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The Red Sox‘ 5-1 win over the Orioles Wednesday night came with a price.

On a freakish play in the bottom of the fifth inning, Hanley Ramirez was hit on the wrist on a hit-and-run play when Xander Bogaerts’ liner hit Ramirez when he was running to second base.

The Red Sox announced he left the game with a left hand contusion. Mike Napoli took his place in the lineup with Brock Holt moving from first base to right field.

Later in the game, Dustin Pedroia was injured in the bottom of the sixth on his two-run single to left field. He left the game with what the Red Sox announced as right hamstring tightness after he rounded first base and appeared to be in obvious pain.

“We’re still in the process of gathering all the information,” manager John Farrell said after the game. “There’s advanced imaging going on for both Pedey and Hanley. The injuries are what everyone saw, but we don’t have full information yet.”

Ramirez’s injury occurred on one of the stranger plays that can happen in a game, but it is the second time this year that a Red Sox base runner has been hit with a ball on a hit-and-run, as it happened to Bogaerts earlier in the year.

“It’s very rare, it’s uncommon to happen where two guys advancing to second base being put in motion get hit with a line drive and a ground ball,” Farrell said. “It’s something you don’t see often. And the one tonight hopefully we’re able to avoid something physical for the time being.”

It’s very rare for Pedroia to leave a game, so there is some concern there, but no new information will be known until likely Thursday morning.

“He lost his footing going around the bag,” Farrell said. “He slips with the left foot and when he tried to plant and brace himself with his right foot, the ground gave out or he stepped in a little bit of a hole and wasn’t able to keep solid footing and that’s where he felt it in the hamstring. Anytime a player comes off the field, you’re concerned. But we’ll know more here before the night’s out.”

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Red Sox injury updates: Sox hope to get Ryan Hanigan back July 1; Shane Victorino begins rehab with Pawtucket

06.24.15 at 5:36 pm ET
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Ryan Hanigan

Ryan Hanigan

The Red Sox have two players rehabbing in the minors in catcher Ryan Hanigan (broken finger) and outfielder Shane Victorino (left calf) .

It seems Hanigan will return faster than Victorino, as the Red Sox are hopeful he can return when he’s eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on July 1.

“We fully hope that he’d be back when he’s first eligible and that’s right after the first of July,” manager John Farrell said.

Hanigan caught five innings on Monday and served as the designated hitter Tuesday with Triple-A Pawtucket. Following a day down on Wednesday, Farrell said he will be back behind the plate Thursday.

Victorino will begin his rehab with the PawSox on Wednesday.

“He’ll go back to back for the first couple days just building into it,” Farrell said. “Two and three at-bats both for the first two nights. We’ve got to get him to where he’s going consecutive games nine innings each before he comes back to us. So that wouldn’t be on this upcoming road trip.”

Farrell ruled out a return to the team on their upcoming road trip for Victorino.

Both players will be with Pawtucket until Friday and then after it’s undetermined where they will go, with the chance one or both could go to Double-A Portland.

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Red Sox pregame notes: Mike Napoli’s struggles ‘surprising'; No decision made on Joe Kelly

06.24.15 at 5:18 pm ET
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Mike Napoli's average has dipped below .200 to .199 this season. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Mike Napoli‘s average has dipped below .200 to .199 this season. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

It hasn’t been the contract year many expected from Mike Napoli.

With an 0-for-4, four strikeout performance Tuesday, Napoli’s average has dipped down below .200 to .199 and in the month of June he’s batting .179 with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 72 plate appearances.

With the type of spring Napoli had, hitting six home runs and having sleep apnea surgery in the offseason, the issues he’s had have come as a bit of a surprise.

“I think we’re all a little surprised,” manager John Farrell said. “That’s not to say that Mike’s not working at it because he is. Coming off the spring, he looked free, he was getting some balls in the inside part of the plate where he was getting ahead out to the pull side and was driving the ball into right center field, which is where he true power is when you see him going well. With the exception of a smaller stint of time that’s really when he’s been in that approach.

“This is surprising. There’s going to be swing and miss, we know that with Mike. That’s part of his make up as a player, as a performer, with the power you’re going to get. You could also look to four years ago, there was a year similar to what is unfolding right now and that’s been a lower average, but a high number of home runs. We’re certainly not turning away from Mike, we’re here to help him get through it.”

In his first two seasons in Boston, Napoli hit .259 and .248 respectively. Farrell doesn’t see a change in his swing, more so he’s fouling off pitches he should be hitting.

“No. There’s a big swing there, which again goes hand and hand with the power that you’re going to get from him,” he said. “I thought last year there was a little bit more of a pronounced two-strike approach where he shortened up and not to say we’re always looking to sacrifice an at-bat, but Mike’s here to drive the baseball and he’s certainly capable of that. But, to say that there is a fundamental change where the bat head is in and out of the strike zone quicker than what we’ve seen in the past, I certainly don’t see that. Like I said, there’s a pitch in the at-bat right now that he’s fouling off and then after that they are kind of forcing him to chase on the periphery.”

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John Farrell on D&H: ‘No one is more conscious and aware of [Mike Napoli’s struggles] than Mike Napoli’

06.24.15 at 5:06 pm ET
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Manager John Farrell made his weekly appearance on the Dale & Holley show Wednesday before the second game of the Red Sox‘ three-game series with the Orioles. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

The Sox’ lineup for the middle game of the series remains largely the same as it was Tuesday evening with two exceptions. Alejandro De Aza will be in right field while Brock Holt takes over Mike Napoli‘s spot at first base. Napoli finished Tuesday’s game with four strikeouts in as many at-bats, prolonging his recent slump. Farrell said it’s definitely not for lack of trying.

“[Tuesday] there was some swing and miss to some fastballs that ended up and in in a pitcher’s count,” he said. “There was the ability by [Ubaldo] Jimenez last night to expand with some split-finger, some sliders down and away that resulted in some chase and some swing and miss.

“No one is more conscious and aware of it than Mike Napoli. If you saw the number of workouts, the number of trips to the cage, the number of sit-down meetings with, whether it’s with [hitting coach Chili Davis], [assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez], others on the staff, to try to work through this, he’s seeking the answer. And with the exception of that one stretch when the Angels were in town where he pretty much carried us for a 7-10-day stretch, it’s been a grind for him.

“And after a very strong spring training, Mike would probably be the one to tell you this isn’t what he anticipated, but then if you look back probably four years ago, he had a year very similar to the one he’s having now where there’s power there, the high number of strikeouts come with that power, but we’re trying to gain some consistency with him as well.”

The Red Sox also are looking for consistency in the rotation. While some pitchers have continued to improve as the season goes along, others have continued to run into trouble, which makes it difficult for Boston to really get going even with the offense excelling recently.

“When you point to where we are as a team right now, and to get onto a sustained roll, it’s going to require some consistency out of those five guys just to give our offense a chance to get on a roll each and every night,” Farrell said. “We’re swinging the bat much better this month. I believe we’re leading the American League in extra-base hits, and I do believe hits in general, but still we’ve had some turns through the rotation where it’s been consistent, and yet for one or two of those slots another turn through, it’s been a little bit of a rocky road.”

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Red Sox lineup: Mike Napoli out after 4 strikeout game; Brock Holt playing first base

06.24.15 at 3:24 pm ET
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After going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts Tuesday, Mike Napoli is out of the lineup Wednesday against the Orioles and right-handed starter Bud Norris. The Red Sox will look to take Game 2 of the three-game set at Fenway Park.

Brock Holt will take Napoli’s place at first base and hit in the No. 2 spot in the order. Alejandro De Aza will get the start in right field with Mookie Betts in center and Hanley Ramirez in left.

Sandy Leon will once again catch Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz.

For an extensive look at the matchups, click here.

Here is the complete Red Sox lineup:

Mookie Betts, CF
Brock Holt, 1B
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH
Hanley Ramirez, LF
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Alejandro De Aza, RF
Sandy Leon, C
Clay Buchholz, RHP

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Buster Olney on MFB: ‘At some point the Red Sox have to move on’ from Mike Napoli

06.24.15 at 1:52 pm ET
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Buster Olney

Buster Olney

ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Wednesday afternoon to talk about the struggles of Joe Kelly and Mike Napoli in addition to other topics. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

On Tuesday night, Kelly posted his seventh start of 14 this season in which he allowed at least four earned runs, finishing the evening with five in 3 2/3 innings. The abbreviated outing was his third of the year that he had to be yanked from before five full frames.

“You keep hearing the speculation from people of other teams that, at some point, maybe the Red Sox make the adjustment and move him to the bullpen because that’s where I know evaluators with some other teams believe his stuff best translates,” Olney said.

He also added that, though he’s not close enough to the situation to say whether or not it’s the issue for sure, Boston’s catching situation could have an effect on Kelly’s troubles on the hill.

“Joe is an active guy on the mound,” Olney said. “He’s into every pitch, and there’s so much energy there. And then watching him earlier this year, and this is total speculation on my part, I wondered him working with a younger catcher, is that something different? Do you feel like when [Ryan] Hanigan comes back, Ryan with more experience would be potentially a better match for Joe and trying to draw what everybody sees out of him. And I know that a lot of the scouts I talk to about him say that they feel like he still doesn’t have a great feel for what pitches to throw in various situations, and maybe if he develops a relationship with a catcher where he just defers to a guy like Hanigan, maybe that’s part of what gets him back.”

Mike Napoli also has been in somewhat of a slump with five hits in his last 38 at-bats, including an 0-for-4 performance Tuesday with four K’s, and a season batting average of .199. Olney said it’s getting to the point where the Red Sox are going to have to make a decision regarding the first baseman and his future with the team.

“They’re 30th out of 30 teams in OPS for first basemen,” he said. “Last night was probably about as tough a night as Mike’s had in the big leagues, and it’s just not working. And at some point, as they look try to take their last shot before the trade deadline and see if they can get back into this thing, they need to get some sort of production at that position. I kind of wonder if it’s just one of those situations where he got off to a slow start and he’s kind of spinning himself deeper and deeper because these guys, they put pressure on themselves, and I have no doubt that if the Red Sox were to try to trade him or to move him along, and they’d probably have to eat money because of his offensive performance this year, that other teams would certainly be willing to give him a shot. Because he’s got that history, and he’s got a history of coming out of slumps and bouncing back, but at some point the Red Sox have to move on.”

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Curt Schilling on D&C: ‘I’m not sure’ Red Sox can turn it around

06.24.15 at 9:43 am ET
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ESPN baseball analyst and former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday morning and talked about the Red Sox and Joe Kelly’€™s struggles. To listen to the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Schilling said that despite the lofty expectations, the disappointing Red Sox simply may not be a team capable of turning the ship around and playing better.

“I’d love to think that they’€™re going to turn it around, I’d love to think that they’re going to do the things we’€™d like them to do, but I’m not sure that’s who they are,” Schilling said.

According to Schilling, the Sox’ inability to gather and maintain momentum is a result of inconsistencies across the roster, but largely caused by the team’s pitching.

“A lot of what you see from three weeks ago or two weeks ago or five days ago, the reason you don’t see that sustained thing is the pitching,” Schilling said. “When you run starters out there to the end of the sixth and seventh and eighth innings, those are different clubs.

“It’s game-changing, obviously, and there aren’t a lot of those teams out there. But on the nights that the pitching doesn’t come up big, the offense scores eight or nine. They can’t do either of those things consistently.”

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Wednesday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. Bud Norris

06.24.15 at 8:35 am ET
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Clay Buchholz will take the mound at Fenway Park on Wednesday evening trying to build on the stellar start he made against the Braves last Thursday. He will face off against Bud Norris of the Orioles.

Buchholz was fantastic in the aforementioned outing, tossing seven innings and giving up zero earned runs on six hits. Working on a limited pitch count, Buchholz needed just 92 pitches to navigate the Braves‘ lackluster offense, throwing 63 pitches for strikes. After heading to the DL last May following a start in Atlanta where he gave up eight walks in three innings, Buchholz was wary of the Georgia heat.

“I underestimated it last year, the heat and how much that can affect you if you’re not used to it,” Buchholz said after the 5-2 Red Sox win. “I knew what I was doing coming into the game today. It wasn’t a day game, so that helped out, too. But yeah, if you’re not ready for the heat it can get to you. It’s one of the things I wasn’t going to let affect me today.”

Though not widely known, Buchholz has been the Sox’ most consistent starter all season long. Despite his 4-6 record and 3.87 ERA, the right-hander maintains a 2.82 FIP, the 11th-best mark in the majors. Additionally, opponents’ .335 BABIP against him is well above the league average of .300 and it is tied for the highest among the top 11 FIP leaders.

While Buchholz owns a career 4.03 ERA at home, he has struggled at the friendly confines this year, posting a 1-4 record and a 4.61 ERA. The 30-year-old has given up just two dingers at home this year, but he has surrendered baserunners too easily, logging a 1.54 WHIP.

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