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Clay Buchholz sharp early, tires late against Yankees, but shoulder ‘feels fine’

03.20.14 at 8:36 pm ET
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Clay Buchholz fires a pitch Thursday night against the Yankees. (AP)

Clay Buchholz fires a pitch Thursday night against the Yankees. (AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A new approach to getting ready for the regular season seems to be agreeing with Clay Buchholz.

The right-hander, slotted into the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, looked sharp for most of his five innings Thursday night in a 3-2 loss to the Yankees at JetBlue Park.

Buchholz said early in spring training that with a spot assured in the rotation he would look to slowly increase his intensity during games and not start full throttle. On Thursday, he mixed in all of his pitches, working his curveball and two-seam fastball to generate a multitude of ground outs.

“It was mostly two-seam and cutters,” Buchholz said. “The two-seam, that’s the reason I throw it, to get ground balls. Whenever I’m staying on top of it and smooth through the delivery, that’s most of the times what happens.

“I was down in the zone for pretty much the first four innings. In the fifth inning, [the wind] started blowing a little bit, tried to get my legs back underneath me and started overthrowing. I left some balls up in hitters counts and gave up a couple of hits. But I needed to be in that 70 to 75-pitch range.”

Buchholz allowed five hits and three runs in his five innings, throwing 73 pitches (49 strikes). He walked one and struck out three. Buchholz is now 2-2 with a 2.77 ERA. He’s allowed 10 hits and walked three in 13 innings, striking out eight while allowing four runs.

“It’s different than the last couple of times out but I felt good with just about everything,” he said. “I battled a little bit with the changeup but other than that, threw every other pitch pretty well.”

Buchholz added that his right shoulder through four starts feels strong and nearly ready to start the season.

“It feels fine,” Buchholz said. “I think fatigue was the only thing that set in today. I thought like the ball was coming out of my hand better today than it has, with less effort. Felt good in the bullpen and felt good in the first four innings. It’s just getting that pitch count to where we need it to be before the season starts.

“Obviously, it’s taking a little bit longer to get the innings in for the simple fact that I started a little bit late, but for the most part it’s worked out pretty nicely for me and to able to go out there and have a pitch limit set or an inning limit set during the game. It’s all about reaching that, and you don’t want to reach it in two innings. I reached it in five, and that was what was mapped out for me.”

This year, Buchholz says the changeup seems to be the pitch he needs to refine the most before the season starts.

“It’s a different pitch every year,” he said. “Sometimes it’s getting the spin on a curve or getting the two-seam working right. It’s just one of those things where it’s taking a little bit longer than I want it to but it’s something that I have to work on in the next five days before my next outing and see if I can refine something in the delivery or whatever it is to get that back.”

Buchholz will make two more appearances before opening the season on April 5 at home against Milwaukee. His final start of the spring will be next Tuesday in Port Charlotte against the Rays. He would rather his final work come in a simulated game in Baltimore rather than stay behind in Florida.

“In years past, it’s been a full one and back off a little bit [before] your first start,” Buchholz said. “I haven’t really talked to anybody about it yet. If it could be a simulated game, I’d rather just fly with the team and do that there [in Baltimore] but if it’s something else they want me to do, then it’s no big deal.

“Obviously, go a little bit deeper, go six, pitch into the seventh if the [pitch count] allow me to do that and then go from there. Overall, I felt comfortable all the way through tonight.”

At one point, Buchholz retired seven straight batters on ground outs. That was part of a stretch of 11 straight retired by Buchholz.

Buchholz made just one mistake in the first 4 2/3 innings, and like Jake Peavy the night before, it was hit a long, long way. Francisco Cervelli crushed a fastball over the JetBlue Monster in left for his fourth homer of the season in the second inning to stake David Phelps and the Yankees to a 1-0 lead.

Then Buchholz found his groove, retiring the next 11 batters, including nine of his final 10 outs on ground outs.

But with two outs in the fifth, Buchholz appeared to lose steam quickly. Zoilo Almonte worked a walk. That was followed by a slicing double down the right field line from Zelous Wheeler. With runners on second and third and two outs, Ichiro Suzuki lined a sharp single to right to score a pair and put the Yankees up 3-0. Dean Anna singled to left before Eduardo Nunez hit a comebacker to Buchholz to end the inning and his night of work.

David Ortiz went hitless in his first two at-bats, dropping his average to .063 (2-for-32), though he looked better at the plate with several good swings and a sharp line-drive grounder into the shift that ended a threat in the first.

Grady Sizemore played all nine innings in center field for the first time this spring. He grounded out to second in his first two at-bats before singling to right in the sixth, raising his spring average to .375. Sizemore lined out to short in his final at-bat in the eighth. He is batting .360 in eight games.

The Red Sox were held to just one hit by Phelps over the first five innings, a first-inning double by Shane Victorino. David Ross and Sizemore singled in the sixth against Phelps before Dustin Pedroia doubled home a pair with a two-out double to right-center. Ortiz then worked his third walk of the spring before coming out for a pinch-runner. Mike Napoli popped out to Mark Teixeira at first to end the sixth with the Red Sox down 3-2.

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, David Ortiz, MLB
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