- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Good morning from the Edes cave, the day after 4,800 folks took the Red Sox up on their offer to produce a ticket stub from Tuesday’s misery and were rewarded with a free night of baseball Thursday night in the Fens, where both Clay Buchholz and David Ortiz remain ridiculously hot.
Let’s begin with Buchholz, who became the major leagues’ first five-game winner by throttling the Astros, striking out 10 in 7 2/3 innings, then said he was having trouble gripping and throwing his two-seamed fastball, which has become his go-to pitch.
He threw 28 two-seamers Thursday night, only 13 for strikes, and didn’t get a single swing and miss. So he relied more on his four-seam fastball, throwing 29 of them, 21 for strikes, averaging just under 95 miles an hour with his elevating fastball. He said afterward that he’s not sure he would have been able to transition that smoothly in the past.
“Probably not,” he said. “That was one thing that I worked really hard on, was having both fastballs and being able to locate them and pitch off that. It’s a little different not having a two-seam to throw whenever I want. It was tough to get to that point at certain spots, but I was able to find a way to get through a couple of innings.’’
It’s striking to see how reliant Buchholz has become on his sinker. Last season, in his fifth start, he threw just 10 two-seamers, according to Brooksbaseball.net, which tracks such things, and checking a random start in late July, he threw just 5, compared to 43 four-seamers.
What has made Buchholz so impressive this season has been his ability to throw five pitches -- four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, curveball, and changeup -- with command. He has produced the best results with his two-seamer -- opposing hitters are just 6 for 35 (.171) against that pitch -- and cutter (5 for 32, .156).
The Astros actually got to him early, scoring runs in both the second and third innings, and the pitch count was rising at a rapid rate, 59 through three innings. As noted earlier, he said he was having trouble with his grip, and his pace was noticeably slower. But then he adjusted, and set down 11 batters in a row in one stretch.
“I think it goes back to he knows himself that much more as a pitcher,” manager John Farrell said. “Even tonight, when things didn’t start out as crisp and efficient as he's been in his other starts, it clicked for him in the fourth inning. And I think he recognizes the ability to put the ball on the ground with certain pitches against different types of hitters. That’s a key. A couple of double plays again tonight lends to the overall efficiency. But still I just think it’s Clay maturing as a pitcher overall.”
A few other numbers to note regarding Buchholz:
* Five straight starts 2 earned runs or less.
* One home run allowed out of 144 batters faced.
* At least 7 innings in all five starts.
* He’s allowing an average of just 6 hits per nine innings.
* His strikeout to walk ratio is 3 to 1.
* Left-handed hitters are batting just .143 (10 for 70), with 3 extra-base hits.
* Opposing cleanup hitters are just 1 for 16, with 6 strikeouts.
* With men on base, opposing hitters are batting just .103 (6 for 58).
Then there’s Ortiz, who had three more hits Thursday, including his first home run, a 439-foot blast into the center-field bleachers, his longest home run in the Fens since Sept. 27, 2007. He has 11 hits in 20 at-bats since being activated Saturday, a .550 average.
“He’s definitely making it look easy,’’ said Daniel Nava, who walked twice and scored a run Thursday. “He’s fun to watch. It’s not like you lose sight of what Buch did, but when a guy has been gone for so long and he’s doing what David’s doing you almost forget that Buck went out and pitched nearly eight innings with 10 punchouts.’’
Buchholz said the dugout was “yelling and screaming” when Ortiz went from first to third on a two-out single by Mike Carp in the fifth.
“Oh yeah,’’ Nava said. “That’s a big sign that he’s feeling better.
“There’s been a big emphasis from Day 1 with the coaching staff we’re going to run the bases well. We’re going to put pressure on the other team. That’s everyone, from Ells (Jacoby Ellsbury), Papi, to Salty (Jarrod Saltalamacchia), it didn’t matter who. So to see him doing that shows he’s obviously feeling good, but he’s also buying into the whole idea. It’s about us winning. That’s all we care about.’’
Interestingly, while there have been clear instances demonstrating Sox aggressiveness on the bases, beginning with Jonny Gomes scoring from second on Jacoby Ellsbury’s infield hit in the season opener against the Yankees -- the overall numbers don’t yet reflect a greater aggressiveness by the Sox on the basepaths.
According to baseball-reference.com, the Sox have taken more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double 38 percent of the time so far this season. That number was 42 percent last season.
Small sample size, to be sure, but worth tracking.