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Closing Time: Clay Buchholz, David Ortiz continue to impress as Red Sox ground Astros

04.25.13 at 9:35 pm ET
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It is not merely that Clay Buchholz is the first pitcher in the majors to five wins. After all, as Buchholz himself has acknowledged on many occasions, a starting pitching can only play a partial role in the outcome of a game.

But Buchholz is doing something more than winning in the first month of 2013. He is showing the consistent ability to dominate, and to do so in a fashion that not only gives his team an excellent chance for victory on the night he pitches, but also impacts the following game thanks to the innings he assumes for himself and spares the bullpen.

On Thursday night, Buchholz worked through some early command issues to limit the Astros to two runs on six hits in 7 2/3 innings in the Sox’ 7-2 victory. After requiring 60 pitches to get through the first three innings, Buchholz sailed through the duration of the contest, needing just 49 pitches to record his next 14 outs, including a stretch between the fifth and eighth innings in which he retired 11 straight batters. He got swings and misses on his full array of pitches — fastball, curveball, changeup, cutter — in adding to what has been a consistently overpowering start to the year.

Buchholz is not only the first five-game winner in the majors, but also the first pitcher in the big leagues this year with five outings of as many as seven innings. His two-run yield matched a season-high, and sent his ERA “ballooning” from 0.90 to 1.19. He also punched out 10 batters — his second double-digit strikeout game of the young season — while improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 39-to-14.

His ability to deliver steady innings for a Sox team that has seen its bullpen assume a considerable load in the early stages of the season has made Buchholz as valuable as any member of the team to date.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

David Ortiz continued his remarkable return to the lineup. He went 3-for-4 and launched his first homer of 2013 — a shot to straightaway center field — while also running the bases aggressively and without any apparent restriction. Ortiz is now 11-for-20 with a .550/.571/.850 line in five games since returning. The Sox are 4-1 with Ortiz in the lineup while averaging 5.6 runs per contest.

Daniel Bard, in his first big league game this year, showed impressive life and power on his pitches. He worked at 93-96 mph, featuring particularly noteworthy run to his arm side on his fastball, a pitch on which he got both a check swing strike and a swing and miss from Chris Carter en route to a strikeout. He gave up one hit (a single) in a scoreless inning of work.

Mike Carp continued to play the role of The Microwave off the bench, collecting two more hits (including a double) to improve to 8-for-16 on the season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia interrupted a 6-for-35 skid in which he hit .171/.216/.371 by going 2-for-3 with a pair of run-scoring singles to center. It was the catcher’s first multi-hit game since April 10.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– Though Will Middlebrooks ripped a double to left, he still emerged frustrated after going 1-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts. He was ready to pound his bat into the dirt after expanding the strike zone on his second strikeout of the night, an at-bat in which he continued to expand the strike zone, the same trait that’s been at the heart of a slump that now has him at 6-for-58 since April 7.

Though Middlebrooks evidently remains unhappy with his offense, he has continued to provide strong defense. Most notably, he started an impressive 5-4-3 double play by coming in to backhand a chopper at the third base bag and zinging an impressive throw off of his back foot to second base. The play highlighted both his range and the former high school quarterback’s powerful throwing arm.

Mike Napoli matched a season-high with three strikeouts. However, he recovered after whiffing in his first three plate appearances to line a double to right-center in his fourth trip to the plate.

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