The Red Sox have not had much in the way of consistent starting pitching this year. Jon Lester has been unreliable, giving up four runs as often as not. Josh Beckett, though often very good, has also twice fallen completely apart and allowed seven runs. Daniel Bard has managed to keep runs off the board often enough, but has done so in a manner that never suggests he's likely to continue. Only Felix Doubront has really impressed with any regularity.
But Clay Buchholz has been consistent, too. Just consistently bad--at least until these last two games.
We've seen Buchholz occasionally show signs of promise this year, with performances that were good for all but one inning, or where he stuck it out and survived without his best stuff. But Friday and his previous game against Tampa Bay were the first times we've seen him be truly impressive, and in back-to-back starts no less. Going eight innings and allowing just two runs, striking out seven while walking just two, Clay Put together the sort of game you'd be happy with from any pitcher in the league.
What really got him there was his fastball.
Clay has always struggled with fastball command. It's been an achilles heel all year, with batters able to get ahead as they watch fastballs sail outside and then sit on breaking pitches of the occasional 3-0, 3-1 gift meatballs over the heart of the plate. This was not the situation last night. Between his cutter, two-seamer, and four-seamer, Buchholz was able to find the zone nearly 70% of the time. With something like a 7 MPH gap between his slowest cutter and fastest heater, Buchholz was able to keep the Jays off balance even when all they were seeing was fastballs, leading to a decent number of ground balls in big situations, working at first the changeup and then in later innings the curveball in to keep them further off-balance.
On any given night, Clay seems to have at least one pitch working, but this may be the first time he's had them all. Perhaps more impressive was how he seemed to gain feel for the curve as the night went on, overcoming a difficulty rather than shutting down at the first sign of one as we've seen in the past couple of months.
There's no telling for sure if this is just a fluke run where Clay happens to be feeling his stuff or if he's really back, be it from injury or simply ineffectiveness. But it's certainly a good sign that he went about it the way he did. There was nothing fluky about the game itself--it was just a well pitched baseball game from a man who very much needs to put a few together.