February 28, 2017
CLEARWATER, Fla. – This isn’t Clay Buchholz’s first major league camp.
He’ll celebrate the 10th anniversary of his big league debut later this summer. Buchholz has been around the game longer than every other starting pitcher in camp, and with the exception of Jeremy Hellickson, has enjoyed a career that’s three times longer than every other starting pitcher in Clearwater this spring.
One of the lessons Buchholz has learned in the last decade is not to overextend yourself in March, let alone February. After pitching behind the likes of Jon Lester, John Lackey, and other established veterans for years with the Red Sox, the first-year Phillies right-hander is taking a page from their playbook: he won’t go full throttle until he has to, knowing wasting spring training bullets doesn’t do you much good come April, May, June, and beyond.
The 32-year-old Buchholz eased into his first Grapefruit League start with the Phillies, pitching two shutout innings against the Baltimore Orioles at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla., on Tuesday.
“In years past it’s been more of a max effort deal for me,” Buchholz said. “But getting to be around the veterans that I grew up around, I figured I’d give their advice a try, give 80 percent and work more on release point and being comfortable on the field. Because it’s been a while since I’ve been out there facing competition. It felt good. That’s a step in the right direction for opening day and wherever we’re slotted.”
The competitive nature made Buchholz kick it in a little bit more when he had runners on base, but he otherwise kept it simple, working in command and getting his pitch count where it should be in first Spring Training start.
“If you go out max effort before your body is ready to do that that’s when injuries happen,” Buchholz said.
The former long-time Red Sox pitcher knows a little bit about injuries. He’s made more than 21 starts just three times in his 10-year career and has never racked up 200 innings in any season (he came closest in 2012, when he pitched 189 1/3 innings).
Buchholz’s path to the 200-inning plateau last year ended when he was demoted to the bullpen in the middle of the summer. But, as a reliever, he may have found the key to becoming a better starting pitcher again: he ditched the windup and stuck to pitching out of the stretch upon returning to Boston’s rotation.
Buchholz went 3-0 with a 3.14 ERA in his final five starts with the Red Sox in September. He pitched exclusively out of the stretch again in his two innings of work on Tuesday.
“I’ve pitched out of the stretch probably more pitches in my career than in the windup because there’s been guys on base for the majority of my career,” Buchholz said of the easy transition. “I’m just doing the same thing with every pitch rather than having one thing with the high-leg kick then the slide-step out of the stretch. Everything feels like it’s on time. It’s easier to feel mistakes that way if you’re doing the same thing over and over again, so I think it’s come pretty smoothly.”
If the Phillies stay on rotation – which is a big if since they still have the entirety of March exhibition games ahead of them – Buchholz could make his regular season debut in a Phillies uniform during the first series of 2017 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.