Morning report: The Buch starts here

April, 3, 2013
4/03/13
9:02
AM ET


NEW YORK -- Good morning from the corner of 49th and Lex, where it was front-page news in The New York Times that Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano has left agent Scott Boras for a new sports agency begun by hip-hopper Jay-Z; where Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, if form held, spent the off day holed up in his hotel room (no sightseeing for the RemDawg); and where the Red Sox got an assist from former Sox manager Terry Francona, whose Cleveland Indians ended Toronto’s hopes of an undefeated season by spoiling the Jays’ home opener.

Even if Tito, in his postgame comments, made it clear that Larry Lucchino should never have tried to break him of his chewing habit.

“I was so nervous the whole game, it surprised me," Francona told reporters after the Indians beat R.A. Dickey and the highly touted Jays 4-1 at the Rogers Centre. "I came to realize early in the game how much I care about these guys already that it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was a nervous wreck. I went through three things of tobacco. My tongue is four sizes too big right now."

[+] EnlargeBuchholz
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaClay Buchholz has been hammered by the Yankees the past two seasons, but it's a different Buchholz who will be on the mound tonight.
The Red Sox, after a day off, play the Yankees again Wednesday night in the Bronx, where temperatures may dip into the 30s before the end of the game. With a win tonight, the Sox will match the number of victories they had last season in Yankee Stadium, where they went 2-7. In 2012, they lost six of their first seven games against the Yankees, including the memorable April 21 game in which they blew a 9-0 lead to lose 15-9, and GM Ben Cherington issued his first hollow vote of confidence for the manager. They wound up the season losing their last five to the Yanks, a streak that ended Monday when Jon Lester and the bullpen throttled the Bombers 8-2.

The night before the Sox blew the huge lead against the Yanks, Clay Buchholz started against them; he should have worn a hard hat to the mound -- he gave up five home runs in six innings. The homers all came with the bases empty, otherwise the score would have been a lot worse than it was (6-2).

Buchholz is starting tonight, and he should be comforted by the fact that none of the Yankees who homered against him that night will be in the lineup tonight. Alex Rodriguez is out indefinitely (permanently?) with a bad hip, Russell Martin is with the Pirates, Nick Swisher is with the Indians, and Eric Chavez (two home runs) is with the Diamondbacks.

A stunning stat highlighted by ESPN’s crack research team: The Yankees led the majors with 245 home runs last season, but 201 of those home runs weren’t on the team’s 2013 Opening Day roster, due to injuries and free-agency departures. Nine of their top 10 home run hitters from last season are on the DL or other teams. Cano is the only one on the active roster, and his swing went AWOL last postseason, when he had just three hits in 41 plate appearances, none of them leaving the premises (just trying to be helpful to Jay-Z in his contract negotiations).

But if the past offers a clue, Cano has a good chance of breaking out of it against Buchholz. He is batting .480 against the Sox right-hander with 12 hits in 25 at-bats. That includes the home run he hit off Buchholz on Oct. 1, his last start of the season, one in which he was shelled for eight runs in the second inning, including home runs by Cano, Martin and Curtis Granderson. That gave him a 15.26 ERA for his two starts against the Bombers.

Buchholz wasn’t much better against the Yanks the previous two seasons: a combined 2-2 with a 5.48 ERA, which suggests it might be in Buchholz’s best interests to alter his approach.

And maybe, instead of focusing on the dreadful way Buchholz began 2012 -- 10 home runs and a 9.09 ERA through his first six starts -- the focus should shift to his outstanding spring; working at a far brisker pace than his major league-worst 25.6 seconds between pitches last year, he posted a 0.79 ERA in six starts.

Manager John Farrell noted that Buchholz this season is freed from worrying about the 2011 stress fracture in his back that made him tentative last season.

“The one thing that was evident early on was that he came in without any physical issues to hold him back,” Farrell said Monday in Yankee Stadium. “I thought he was better overall, particularly with his fastball location at the bottom of the strike zone. If that holds true to form, he should be a very good and certainly a very strong starting pitcher for us.

“What that means in innings, wins, losses, time will tell. But he’s in a good place right now to start the season.”

The Red Sox will be opposed by Hiroki Kuroda, a 16-game winner who was 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA in five starts against the Sox last season. He will be facing a much different lineup this season, one that might soon be reinforced by the return of shortstop Stephen Drew, who has been cleared by MLB to resume playing after suffering a concussion. Drew had five plate appearances in an extended spring game in the Fort on Tuesday.

There will be no controversy when Drew is ready to play; shortstop Jose Iglesias will be sent to Pawtucket. The Sox are paying Drew $9.5 million this season and are confident that J.D.’s younger brother, fully recovered from the ankle fracture that derailed his career in 2011, will revert to the form that made him one of the game’s better shortstops on both sides of the ball.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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