Buchholz hitting stride at same time as Red Sox

Buchholz hitting stride at same time as Red Sox

Buchholz hitting stride at same time as Red Sox
TORONTO -- Clay Buchholz had been a mystery even to himself for much of the first two months of the season. But the righty is finding his groove, and it could have a big impact on the Red Sox.

In Friday night's 7-2 victory over the Blue Jays, Buchholz logged a season-high eight innings, giving up six hits and two runs. He walked two and struck out seven, also a season best.

"It felt good. I felt comfortable," said Buchholz. "I feel like my arm is getting stronger. Given the back issue last year, starting to throw in the offseason this year was more of a precautionary thing rather than trying to get it in shape to do 200 innings or so. It's getting to the point where it should have been in the middle of Spring Training right now."

Buchholz is 5-2 with a 6.58 ERA, the latter stat an indication of the early-season hole he dug himself.

Then again, Buchholz isn't much different than the Red Sox themselves, who were wobbly early and now on fire, just three games back in the American League East.

"I think we were all frustrated with the way things were going," said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "It wasn't just him. It wasn't just the pitching staff. It was the all-around team. In the last few weeks, we've really been picking it up and grinding and playing the way we should be playing. Buck set the tone."

Offensively, the Red Sox had plenty of people step up in this one. Daniel Nava had four hits and Adrian Gonzalez three. David Ortiz also had a multihit game, including his 13th homer of the season.

Nava's storyline has become one of the most compelling in the game. He was nowhere on Boston's radar screen when Spring Training started. In fact, he didn't even get an invitation to Spring Training.

Thanks to a barrage of injuries in the outfield, he got called up on May 10 and has started all 22 games in left field since he's been on the roster.

The switch-hitter is hitting .314. He is no longer simply the man who hit a grand slam for the Red Sox in his first Major League at-bat in 2010. He has become a consistent contributor.

"Gratifying? I don't know if that's the word I'm looking for," said Nava. "I think it's gratifying to be a part of what's going on as far as the wins and stuff. Maybe last time [in 2010], I was focused on doing it at the plate was what I had to do. I just learned that this time it's whatever I can do to help the team win."

Then there is Buchholz, who has been a key to Boston's success for several seasons, but got off to a perplexingly bad start this season. This was his third solid performance in the last four games.

"He's been building to that, that's for sure," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "Clay Buchholz was terrific tonight. He had something extra on his fastball, he had a terrific changeup, changed his angle a little on his breaking ball, threw strikes and was very competitive. I liked that -- he likes that, and I expect we can get more of the same. That was terrific."

Valentine loved how much Buchholz wanted to go back out for the eighth.

"He wanted it, and I wanted him to do it," Valentine said. "He didn't have many pitches, and now he's conquered eight [innings]. And it was 109 pitches when all was said and done, but there were a couple of tough innings. I know it's only June 1, but as the team comes together, individuals build as the season goes on, and that's how the team builds confidence in itself."

Boston got on the board first when Ortiz launched a homer to left against Jays starter Henderson Alvarez to lead off the second. It was a 10-pitch at-bat, and Alvarez threw all fastballs.

"He kept challenging him with his best stuff, and in a 0-0 game you want the opposition to force their way on," said Blue Jays manager John Farrell. "Certainly Ortiz is swinging the bat well, and he got the ball out over the plate and he was able to extend and hit the ball out of the ballpark."

It was Ortiz's 30th career homer in 95 games at Rogers Centre, which ranks second to Alex Rodriguez among visiting players.

"David continues to swing -- that home run is big," Valentine said. "That guy has good stuff, and David went up there and just took a seven-pitch AB and hit a HR."

Back came Boston again in the third, as Nava ripped a one-out double to right and Gonzalez smacked an opposite-field single to drive him in.

"I guess he doesn't like Triple-A," Ortiz said of Nava. "Unbelievable. He's doing a great job. Hopefully he continues it."

With one swing, the Jays got a run back in the third, as Yunel Escobar belted a solo shot to left to make it 2-1.

Other than David Cooper's homer in the seventh, that was all Toronto could muster against Buchholz.

"Four pitches for strikes, good stuff," said Farrell, who was Buchholz's former pitching coach in Boston. "After about the third inning he got into a much better rhythm and groove."

As Buchholz settled in, the Red Sox continued to add on. After a leadoff single by Nava in the sixth, Gonzalez came up with another big hit, a double to left. After a walk by Ortiz loaded the bases, Saltalamacchia got a run home with a fielder's-choice grounder.

In the seventh, Boston put the game out of reach with a four-spot. The first four hitters in the lineup -- Scott Podsednik, Nava, Gonzalez and Ortiz -- came up with two-out RBI hits to make it a 7-1 game.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.