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Closing Time: Clay Buchholz, Red Sox cruise past Yankees again

04.03.13 at 10:45 pm ET
By

Clay Buchholz

NEW YORK — It has been one of the more impressive Red Sox starts to a season in recent memory.

For the second straight game, the Red Sox featured an overpowering performance against a depleted Yankees squad en route to a 7-4 victory. Indeed, the Sox further contributed to the depletion when New York starter Hiroki Kuroda made an ill-advised attempt to spear a Shane Victorino liner up the middle with his bare hand. From that point, Kuroda lost the ability to command his pitches, and he soon left the game with what the team described initially as a contusion.

Meanwhile, Clay Buchholz looked outstanding, primarily on the strength of a four-seam fastball that he located with precision and a two-seam fastball with ample movement, complementing those pitches with his curve and changeup. Buchholz sailed through seven innings in which he permitted just one run on six hits while requiring only 94 pitches. He struck out four, walked two and got seven outs via groundball, with the Sox (most notably, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Iglesias) playing excellent defense behind him.

The result? For the first time since 1999, the Red Sox are off to a 2-0 start. For the first time since 1995, the team has opened the year by scoring seven-plus runs in two straight games. For the first time since 1919, they have opened a season with two straight road games in which they’ve scored at least seven runs.

Obviously, there is danger in drawing far-reaching conclusions based on the first two games of the season. But the Sox certainly have had plenty of reason for encouragement based on a pair of strong performances that have featured sharp execution to start the year.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– Considering the depth of Buchholz’s struggles at the start of 2012, the Sox couldn’t have asked for much more from his first outing of 2013. His willingness to attack the strike zone and work efficiently (both in terms of strike-throwing and pace) was eye-opening, as he blitzed through seven innings with just 94 pitches, 62 strikes, while giving up the one run.

For comparison’s sake, it’s worth looking at how his 2012 season started. He gave up at least five earned runs in each of his first six starts and had a 9.09 ERA through his first start in May. It wasn’t until his 12th start of the season that he gave up one or fewer runs.

Jackie Bradley Jr. collected his first career hit (an RBI single lined up the middle on a 2-2 fastball from Cody Eppley), got hit by a pitch for the first time (something he did, on average, once out of roughly every nine games in the minors last year, contributing to his .430 OBP) and made another excellent catch, tracking down in deep left-center what looked like an RBI double into the gap off the bat. He went 1-for-4 with the HBP, and has now reached base in half of his 10 plate appearances to start his career.

Daniel Nava, in his first action of the season (with right-hander Hiroki Kuroda on the hill), provided an immediate offensive impact, going 2-for-3 with a double, walk, HBP and scoring a run as the DH. Nava and Jonny Gomes appear set to have something of a timeshare as the designated hitter until David Ortiz returns from the DL.

Jose Iglesias, after collecting three infield hits (one — a bunt — by design, two through fortuitous placement) on Opening Day, had a stronger performance in the second game of the year. He went 2-for-4 with a double, with both of his hits being hard grounders just inside the third base line.

Jacoby Ellsbury, who went 3-for-6 on Opening Day, reached base two more times, going 1-for-4 with a walk and two runs batted in.

Mike Napoli snapped an 0-for-8 rut to start his Red Sox career with an infield single in the top of the sixth inning.He would strike out looking in his final at-bat, and is now 1-for-10.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– The Sox’ lone deficiency through two games: power. The team did not go deep for the second straight game, though undoubtedly, the inability to clear the fences reflected in part on the cold weather that had the ball dying in the outfield. It is just the second time in the last 15 years that the team hasn’t gone deep in either of the first two games of the season.

Will Middlebrooks is still searching for his first hit of the season, going 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts and a walk. He’s now 0-for-8 with four whiffs and two walks to start the year. However, in a pair of at-bats, he drove the ball — once flying out to the warning track in right-center, then rocketing a ball to the track just to the left of center field.

– For the second straight game, left-hander Andrew Miller permitted the first hitter he faced to reach base, drumming Ben Francisco with a pitch. Opponents are 0-for-3 with two walks and an HBP against him in six plate appearances thus far.

Alfredo Aceves gave up a three-run homer to Vernon Wells on a poorly located 94 mph fastball up and over the plate.

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