Rumors Emerge That Clay Buchholz May Miss World Series Start

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz
Oct 19 2013 Boston MA USA Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz walks back to the dugout after being relieved during the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers in game six of the American League Championship Series playoff baseball game at Fenway Park Robert Deutsch USA TODAY Sports

The World Series begins tonight in Boston with Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright predictably getting the Game 1 starts for their clubs. But for the Red Sox, things will change beginning with Game 2. Through the ALDS and ALCS, those starts belonged to Clay Buchholz. In the World Series, it will be John Lackey.

There are likely two reasons for this. Firstly, are their postseason performances. Lackey has won both of his starts this month. After giving up four runs in his start against the Rays in the ALDS, Lackey bounced back and pitched brilliantly in Game 3 of the ALCS in Detroit, shutting down a powerful Tigers lineup. He allowed just four hits over 6.2 shutout innings and struck out eight.

Buchholz, meanwhile, has struggled through the playoffs. In three starts, he has posted a 5.40 ERA and has not factored in any decision. His 10.26 H/9 rate is more than four hits higher than it was during the regular season. His performance alone might warrant him moving a game or two back in the series anyway, but it appears there may be a bigger issue.

There seems to be some uncertainty about whether Buchholz will actually be able to pitch at all in the World Series. WEEI’s Rob Bradford is reporting that the pitcher is dealing with some physical issues. While Red Sox officials say they fully expect Buchholz to pitch this weekend in St. Louis, there is at least cause for concern.

This, obviously, isn’t the first time the right-hander has dealt with injury problems this year. He began the season as a Cy Young Award contender, but then missed three months with shoulder inflammation. The Red Sox haven’t let on to what his new physical concerns are, but it’s not outlandish to think it is related to the problem that plagued him for half the season.

His performances over his last three outings point to some sort of issue. He has struggled with his velocity and endurance. As Bradford notes, in Game 6 of the ALCS, Buchholz topped 93 mph just three times and threw only one fastball in his last inning of work. Throughout the playoffs, he has limited opposing hitters to just a .205 average in the first four innings of his starts, but that more than doubles to .435 in the fifth and sixth innings.

Having to be shut down for twelve weeks seems to be catching up with him. And, even though the Red Sox say publicly that they expect Buchholz to make a start in this series, they still haven’t officially named him a starter for either Game 3 or 4. Clearly there is doubt from within.

If Boston is forced to go in a different direction, it would make the most sense for Jake Peavy to be bumped up to Game 3. It’s the exact type of situation Boston acquired him for. He gives them a gritty pitcher who adds depth to their rotation.

He was great in his postseason debut with Boston in the clinching ALDS Game 4 against Tampa. He gave up one run on five hits over 5.2 innings. Things were a bit rougher for him in the ALCS, however. He wasn’t able to make it past three innings and allowed seven runs in the loss.

Though Peavy hasn’t faced the Cardinals this season, he did get plenty of work against National League teams this year, and he fared pretty well. In nine interleague starts, he went 6-2 with a 3.84 ERA. Boston could do a lot worse than having Peavy go in Game 3 and a potential Game 7.

The next question for Boston is who would take on the Game 4 pitching duties. Ryan Dempster would be one option. He has worked out of the bullpen twice during this postseason. He surrendered one hit in each of his one-inning appearances, but kept runs off the board.

If one is reading the tea leaves, though, it looks like the Red Sox would instead tap Felix Doubront for the start. Doubront worked a simulated game for manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington on Tuesday, then followed that with a side session for pitching coach Juan Nieves. It sure seems that is a staff that wants him to be ready for a potential start.

Doubront was incredible at times this year. From mid-May to mid-August, he put together a stretch of 16 consecutive starts during which he allowed three runs or fewer. Once that streak ended, though, he struggled mightily. In four of his final seven starts, he gave up four runs or more. His September ERA was 9.77 and there was speculation he would be left off the playoff roster.

He did end up making the cut for both the ALDS and ALCS, but was not called upon in the first series against Tampa. He did make two relief appearances against Detroit and pitched fairly well, totaling a hit and two walks over 2.1 scoreless innings. That is much more encouraging for Boston than his final few regular season outings.

This, of course, will all be moot if Buchholz is truly okay and is able to make his start(s) in the series. But with the Red Sox being tight-lipped about the situation, it’s either a matter of gamesmanship in keeping the Cardinals guessing about what’s ahead or, more likely, that management is actually uncertain about his availability. One way or another, it won’t be long until we find out.

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Tony Consiglio
Tony Consiglio is a lifelong baseball fan and has worked for television and radio stations throughout New England. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');