Takeaways: Buch shines, but Sox seek help

March, 18, 2013
3/18/13
5:53
PM ET
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Takeaways from a soggy McKechnie Field, where the Pirates and Red Sox slogged through nine innings of exhibition baseball, the Bucs emerging with a 4-3 win that was credited to erstwhile Sox reliever Mark Melancon, who we learned last spring can back up the bases with the best of them. [Oh, Bobby.]

* Even as Boston pitchers continue to run off good starts, manager John Farrell acknowledged that the Sox are in the market to add some organizational depth to the rotation.

“That’s something that has been discussed," he said. “We recognize where we’re at, as far as our starting depth is concerned, particularly with guys who have experience. Franklin [Morales’] injury affects that. Alfredo [Aceves] is a guy we know we can stretch out and will continue to do so and has major-league starting experience.

“But overall, that’s an area I think we’re looking to add to."

[+] EnlargeClay Buchholz
AP Photo/Carlos OsoriPicking up the pace has suited Clay Buchholz well; he's allowed only one run in 13 1/3 spring innings.
* How do you allow just one hit in five innings and still come out on the short end by comparison to the guy who preceded you? Ask Clay Buchholz, who walked Felix Pie in the first, then gave up a home run to Neil Walker to lead off the second, guaranteeing he could not match Jon Lester’s six perfect innings on Sunday.

In a more serious vein, Buchholz gave the Sox another solid start -- that’s the only run he has allowed in 13 1/3 innings spanning four appearances. And in contrast to what my classical music friends would call “adagio” style -- slowly, the tempo long favored by Josh Beckett -- Buchholz did so “allegro," which connotes not only speed but joy.

It’s getting contagious among Sox pitchers. Lester said he has embraced the notion of working with alacrity, Ryan Dempster and John Lackey always have been relatively fast workers, and undoubtedly lefty Felix Doubront won’t want to be left out of the club.

If this keeps up, Bud Selig will make the Sox starters poster boys for his so-far-futile campaign to speed the game up.

“I thought he threw quite a few good changeups and curveballs today," Farrell said. “Once again, he’s maintained a very good rhythm and tempo to the game. First-pitch fastball to Walker for the only run. Another good day for him."

Farrell said that he noticed, not only in video study but from the opposing dugout over the last two years, that the Sox staff might be better served by picking up the pace.

“You see the pace that was established, and you feel like the more you can keep the flow of the game going, it keeps the hitter on the defensive a little bit more. And when you have that much of a time span between pitches, it can be more difficult to repeat the feel of certain pitches, and the touch of secondary pitches.

“These guys are good athletes and the ability to keep that tempo and use their athleticism to their advantage, the byproduct is to keep the hitter on the defensive, which is what we’re seeing."

It also keeps your fielders and fans from collapsing out of boredom.

“There were certain guys who worked a little more deliberately," Farrell said, alluding to his first go-round here as pitching coach. Pap (Jonathan Papelbon) obviously was one. Beckett would take his time. And that was what was comfortable for them.

“At the same time, you saw some other guys follow that lead a little bit, and it looked like it took away from their overall sharpness and effectiveness of their pitches. It was a clear point of emphasis in seeing guys the past couple of years and then coming in here trying to stress that. I think guys have bought in and taken hold of it."

Buchholz struck out four and walked two, while throwing 60 pitches, 38 for strikes.

“I felt good with just about everything," he said. “Just trying to stay on track. The results are good, that’s what builds confidence.

“The pace of the game is big for me. I think that does a lot to help me. I don’t have to really go out there and think about anything. It’s more just get the ball, get a pitch and throw it, and take all the thinking out of it. It’s definitely helped out a lot."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Lester on Sunday.

“It’s been particularly one of my problems, whenever something hits the fan, slow the game down and make sure I’m doing the right thing," Buchholz said. “Sometimes that may hurt me more than help me. Juan [Nieves, pitching coach] has definitely preached it.

“Watching Demp [Dempster], he’s a guy who always has worked quick, and being able to talk to him, I think that’s helped everybody. Even Lack [John Lackey], he’s got a history of working quick when he’s rolling. I think it’s common ground everybody is trying to build on."

Buchholz said that uncertainty last spring about his back (he missed the last 3 months of the 2011 season with a stress fracture in the lumbar region of his spine) contributed to his slow start in 2012, when he allowed five or more earned runs in each of his first six starts.

“I didn’t want to push myself to the point where I was throwing 100 percent every pitch," he said. “Now I feel I can hump up on a pitch if I feel that I need to, and don’t have to worry about anything. I definitely have a more clear head when I’ve been out there so far."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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