FORT MYERS, Fla. – Wednesday’s scheduled offday fell on Clay Buchholz’s scheduled day to pitch. So, he started the Triple-A game against a Rays squad – just one of the benefits of pitching in minor league games.
Buchholz faced six batters in his first inning, recording five outs on 13 pitches, 11 strikes, with a hit and a strikeout. Odd pitching lines like that are another benefit of these outings.
Another benefit is that it allowed Buchholz to get in some necessary work. He pitched six innings, facing 27 batters, allowing 5 runs, four earned, on six hits, with two home runs, a walk and four strikeouts. He threw 89 pitches, 57 for strikes.
While it wasn’t the cleanest of outings for Buchholz, he got what he needed from the outing.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “My first deal was to go out there and throw a lot of changeups. If I missed with it, throw it again. And unfortunately I did that a couple of times back-to-back and threw them both balls behind in the count. First inning felt really good, like everything was going as planned, and then had a couple of long innings after that. But the way I finished I felt really good about it.”
It was after one of those long innings that pitching coach Bob McClure made a suggestion to Buchholz.
“He got better increasing his tempo as he went along,” McClure said.
“Good stuff. I think he can work quicker and be more effective. And we talked about it, and he said it too.”
Could a quicker tempo help Buchholz be more effective?
“I don’t know, but I would bet it would,” McClure said. “Just guessing, I think there’s more flow there if you do it that way. I’ve seen some guys real slow. [Rick] Sutcliffe was slow and a great pitcher. Mike Hargrove as a hitter was real slow but good hitter. I’ve seen guys work slow and be good pitchers.”
It can be a fine line to get a pitcher to change his tempo, possibly taking him out of his routine. But they payoff can be worth it.
“I’ve seen him pitch better when he’s quicker,” McClure said. “When he’s slower it doesn’t seem as good. And I think it has something to do with the rhythm of his delivery, too -- when he thinks about getting the sign earlier, getting the pitch earlier, getting on the same page [as the catcher] earlier. At least from the windup it looks like there’s more rhythm. When he goes real slow it almost looks like he starts and stops and goes again.
“I’m not sure if they’re connected but it sure looked like it today because after we talked about it he got seven outs in one inning on 18 pitches. He faced 10 guys in about 29 pitches. There was one hit in there, but he faced 10 guys and got nine of them out on less than 30 pitches, whereas the two innings before that it wasn’t’ like that.
“All we talked about was can you take less time in between pitches? And he said, ‘Yes I can. Why, am I too slow?’ And I said I think so.”
“Those last couple innings felt like the ball was coming out of my hand a lot better than it was the first four innings,” Buchholz said. “Sped everything up a little bit delivery-wise. Felt like mechanics were a little bit better. Yeah, the body feels good.”
It was Buchholz’s sixth outing of the season, including minor league games. He is confident he is where he needs to be, unlike last season when he didn’t feel prepared to start the season.
“Yeah, just being able to do all the work in between and not having any ill effects from last year has helped out a lot,” he said. “Just knowing that each one of my pitches has been good at least one or two days throughout the spring. So think it’s just repetition now and getting to where I can throw the changeup in any count like I have been for the last couple seasons. I think once I get to that point I thin everything else sort of follows it.”
Now, it’s just a matter of being ready for the start of the season.
“I think just get ready for that first game of the season, mentally be ready,” he said. “Start with strike one and go from there. I think that’s everybody’s key. Throw strike one and then work your way to the hitter getting themselves out. That’s just my number one thought, going deep in the games.”