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One year later, Clay Buchholz is in a different place

03.23.13 at 6:51 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — A year ago, Clay Buchholz faced considerable uncertainty. His focus was on his health, following a 2011 season in which he’d missed the final three-plus months with a small fracture in his back. He was tentative as he prepared for his return to the rotation, with a 5.23 ERA (despite just a .228 batting average allowed last spring). Indeed, Buchholz suggested on Saturday, it was not until about seven starts into the year that he started to feel confidence in his complete repertoire.

This year, there are no injury concerns. And really, the right-hander hasn’t had any reason to worry about anything else, either.

On Saturday, Buchholz continued a spring in which he’s looked like a pitcher who feels certain about what he can accomplish on the mound. He logged 5 1/3 innings against the Pirates (in an eventual 5-3 Red Sox loss), allowing one run (a solo homer by Garrett Jones on a fastball) on four hits with one walk and five strikeouts. Though he allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in five of his six innings of work, Buchholz’s stuff didn’t diminish while working out of the stretch. He elicited swings and misses on all four of his pitches (fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup), and while he said that he’s still working to reclaim the consistency of his changeup at this stage of the spring, the overall pitch mix has allowed him to dominate throughout spring training.

In 18 2/3 innings, Buchholz has allowed just two runs (both solo homers) on 11 hits, with opponents hitting .167 against him. He’s struck out 16 and walked five. The performance has represented a solid foundation for Buchholz as he prepares to enter the 2013 season.

“Everything feels good,” said Buchholz. “All the pitches are coming along. There’s a few here and there that I’m trying a little too hard to make them a better pitch than what I should. At least they’re good misses — down, for the most part. Everything is rolling along now.

“It’s just a confidence builder going into the season,” he added. “The stretch we have to start the season, it’s going to be the best thing to have some confidence going into it. It’s definitely a little different from the last couple of springs. It’s good to see the work going into it is paying off a little bit.”

A FEW OTHER GAME NOTES

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has had a strong spring training from both sides of the plate, with his performance against left-handed pitching being particularly impressive. On Saturday, the switch-hitter had three plate appearances against southpaws, going 2-for-3 with a double (a topspin liner over the left fielder and off the scoreboard) and an RBI single. This spring, he’s now 5-for-15 with a walk and a pair of doubles against lefties, with his .333 average and .375 OBP (albeit in just 16 plate appearances) representing something of a boost for a player who hit just .170 with a .211 OBP in limited opportunities last year against lefties, something that resulted in his employment in a fairly strict platoon by manager Bobby Valentine in 2012.

“The biggest thing is just letting it go,” Saltalamacchia said of his work thus far against lefties. “In the past, limited at-bats so I’ve just walked up thinking put the ball in play, don’t strike out, do something. Right away, you’re putting a negative thought in your head. That’s never good. Just letting it free, don’t change anything — just take a good swing.”

Jose Iglesias delivered an RBI single on a fastball, hitting a hard grounder through a drawn-in infield, but otherwise struggled with both breaking balls and changeups on Saturday. Still, the Sox like the continued aggressiveness of his swings, and the fact that he’s identifying ways to impact the game such as bunting. He’s hitting .231 with a .259 OBP and .404 slugging mark this spring.

Daniel Bard was originally slated to throw in Saturday’s game as the second of back-to-back outings. However, after he threw 24 pitches in a minor league game on Friday, the Sox decided to push back his next appearance until Sunday.

Stephen Drew took part in a full workout, taking batting practice on the field and groundballs on a back field without any increase in the symptoms he’s displayed since suffering a concussion on March 7. He will have another full workout day on Sunday. David Ortiz hit in the batting cage following an indoor workout.

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