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Clay Buchholz threw a bunch of curveballs, and felt good doing it

03.18.12 at 4:36 pm ET

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Clay Buchholz keeps motoring along.

The Red Sox starter’s latest step toward a return to the mound came in the form of a five-inning outing against the Rays in which he allowed just four hits and one run (and Evan Longoria solo shot) while striking out four and not walking a batter. Buchholz threw 76 pitches, 58 of strikes.

But what stood out the most was the amount of curveballs, along with the pitch’s effectiveness.

“He threw it really well,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “It’s the best I’ve seen it, but, like I said, he hasn’t thrown it very much to me so it’s the most I’ve seen it. We wanted to mix things up. We didn’t want to stay just one way with these guys. We want him to get his work in and have them swing the bat.”

“You’ve got a bunch of big-name guys in this lineup, and they’ve been really good for the last three or four years. So, it’s definitely tough to go out there and try to work on things and make good pitches consistently to these guys,” Buchholz said. “That sort of goes out the window after you warm up in the bullpen. That’s basically how I go at it every day, but obviously in spring training you have to work on stuff. I picked a pitch today, and it was the curveball that I wanted to throw more.”

About that curveball (which Buchholz threw just 12 percent of the time in 2011, easily fewer than his other three offerings).

“Like I said, curveball was awesome,” he said. “It was sharp. I was able to vary the velocity on it a little bit. Everything’s falling into place.”

And, then there is the obligatory question about how the back is holding up.

“I’ve been past that for a little while now, said Buchholz

He later added, “I came out here the day after we lost the game in Baltimore and threw six or seven, eight innings, and didn’t have any issues out here, so that just put me in the right frame of mind going to the offseason, taking a month off and then getting back into it.”

While the pitcher might downplay the importance of a healthy back, his teammates understand the importance of keeping that part of Buchholz’ anatomy intact.

“The injury that he had, I would be a little scared, a little skeptical to start throwing and letting it go, and he’€™s been letting it go since Day 1,” Saltalamacchia said. “The command he’€™s got right now, this early in the spring .. I remember last year that was his big struggle, was command and getting through innings. He kind of picked it up right before he got hurt. I’€™m glad to see him go out there, staying healthy and pitching well.”

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