Buchholz taking nothing for granted

Buchholz taking nothing for granted

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox haven't anointed Clay Buchholz as their fifth starter just yet, but logic -- not to mention the right-hander's electric arm -- would indicate he's the front-runner.

Sure, Bartolo Colon could be waiting in the wings at some point and Curt Schilling might get healthy for the stretch run. But for now, it sure seems to be Buchholz's job to lose.

Not that Buchholz -- who came on to the scene in a big way last Sept. 1 with a no-hitter against the Orioles -- thinks anything should be handed to him.

"I don't think that at all," Buchholz said. "I think I still have to go out and prove myself this year. Last year was last year. I had a good season. Then again, it's a completely different year this year. There's a couple of more guys fighting for that spot."

To come out on top, Buchholz knows that he needs to avoid situations like Sunday's Grapefruit League debut when things piled up on him for a four-spot in his first inning of work against the Twins.

"I've got to be able to get outs and not give up four runs in an inning -- I know that," said Buchholz. "I mean, it's going to happen. It happens to everybody. It didn't happen to me all that much last year so it's a little better [for it to happen] right now. At the same time, it's big league camp. It's the real deal up here, I've got to get better, I've got to have a little bit better location and then we'll go from there."

In his Sunday appearance, Buchholz piggybacked Tim Wakefield out of the bullpen. After throwing 28 pitches in that third, he settled down for a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth inning before calling it a day.

The way Buchholz rocketed through 2007 -- from Double-A to Triple-A to the Fenway no-hitter -- a little Spring Training adversity probably isn't the worst thing that could happen.

"With [runners on] first and second, the game speeds up, [he] lets the guy steal third," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Those are things that we forget because his stuff is good and he has some success and he's young. I think the game got a little quick for him in that inning. Maybe that's not so bad."

In late September of last season, the Red Sox had to make the tough decision of telling Buchholz to go home instead of being part of their postseason plans. The right-hander failed to meet expectations on strength tests done by Boston's training staff and he was given specific instructions to work hard in the offseason and come back stronger.

Buchholz did just that and he can already feel the difference.

"Oh definitely," said Buchholz. "From how I felt at the end of last year -- as far as having to try to throw a baseball really, really hard to make it come out of my hand right ... Now I feel like I'm 90-93 [mph] without having to try to throw hard, and I can reach back and throw it a little harder if I want to, so it feels really good right now."

Now it's just time to go out and pitch.

"He's kind of in that [Jacoby] Ellsbury [mode]," Francona said. "You want to see how he handles expectations. As far as pitching, he showed up in great shape. We're thinking we're going to see pretty good results."

With a mid-90s fastball, a pretty curveball and a tantalizing changeup, Buchholz offers an enticing mix, and seemingly endless potential.

"He's got arm speed, he's got a changeup to go with it," Francona said. "Yeah, that's why he is who he is. That's why you guys are asking questions about him. He's got a chance to be really good."

But Buchholz leaves it to fans and media to paint the big picture. He's trying his best to focus on the immediate tasks.

"Actually the last two bullpens I've been a little up in the zone," Buchholz said. "It's early. I've still got a couple of things to work on, a couple of things to try to perfect before we actually get rolling."

As for that fifth spot in the rotation, Julian Tavarez and Kyle Snyder seem to be Buchholz's top competitors. Before long, Colon could be knocking on the door.

Buchholz made it clear he has no problem with a hard fight for the job.

"There's probably four or five guys here that are fighting for one spot," Buchholz said. "That leaves four odd men out. It's going to be fun. I like competition, I like competing against everybody. That's what it's all about. If they were just going to give it to you, you'd take it for granted. That's not how it should work. You should be able to go out there and prove yourself and win a spot."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.