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Red Sox insist Clay Buchholz’s arm strength, not health, is the issue

04.21.14 at 6:06 pm ET
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It wasn’t the worst start of Clay Buchholz‘s career, but it was close. And so, after the right-hander struggled through 2 1/3 innings in which he allowed six runs on seven hits in a 7-6 loss to the Orioles while regularly featuring a fastball that didn’t crack 90 mph, the question had to be asked: Is he dealing with any physical issues that are undermining his performance at the start of the season?

“He doesn’€™t speak of any [physical issues],” said manager John Farrell, who described his starter as featuring stuff that was “a little bit flat” on Monday. “In all the physical testing that we do with all of our pitchers, it doesn’€™t indicate any deficit. Nothing present physically.”

So what is it? Buchholz suggested he’s merely in the stretch of the season where he’s still working to build arm strength. That *could* be interpreted as a red flag, and given that Buchholz has endured significant injuries in two of the past three years (back in 2011, shoulder in 2013), it’s natural to ask whether the pitcher is healthy given the arm strength issues. The Sox acknowledge that reality at a time when he’s struggled to a 7.71 ERA through four starts.

“The sharpness of his pitches, we’re still searching for that. But we know what he can do,” said pitching coach Juan Nieves. “My biggest concern with him is always how healthy are you? Is your shoulder OK? Is your back OK? That’s my biggest concern.”

So, do the Sox think the back and shoulder are healthy?

“Absolutely,” said Nieves. “He’s been able to ring the bell every time between starts. That’s my biggest concern. If a guy doesn’t throw between starts, that worries me. But he’s been able to toe it up in practice, do his long toss with the proper in-between starts work — all the lifting, all the running, all of it. I’m very happy about that. But it’s going to take some time to see him back where he was.”

Therein lies some of the early-season frustration for Buchholz. He doesn’t suffer from any discomfort, nor is he limited, but after starting his throwing program later than usual this offseason (in deference to the months he missed last year with a shoulder injury and the fact that he was pitching, for the first time in his career, till the end of October), he’s still working to build the arm strength that will permit him to throw with more power and life, at which point, he expects to see improved results.

But it remains to be seen precisely when that point arrives.

Buchholz described his arm strength as “not quite there. It feels like it’s getting better. I feel like later, well there wasn’€™t really late in the game today, but later in the past two games, if I wanted to reach back, there were 92s and 93s there. That usually comes pretty easy. I’m struggling with that a little bit right now. But that’ll come together.

“It’s hard to go out there and be confident whenever you’re getting hit around. That’€™s sort of where I’m at right now,” he added. “It’s still pretty early. We still have a lot of time left in this first half to pull it all together and go from there.”

Eventually, Buchholz thinks, with is health will come stuff and, ultimately, results. But in this case, waiting for that time to arrive is anything but pleasant.

“It’s different and it’s hard to wrap your mind around it, but I think it’s in the process of coming,” said Buchholz. “It stinks waiting on it.”

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