In September of 2007, Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in just his second career Major League start. At the time, Buchholz was showing the Red Sox exactly why he was regarded as their top pitching prospect. Now, over a decade later, Buchholz will face those Red Sox for the first time in his 13-year career. This time, he’s trying to prove he can still hack it as a journeyman starter.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe talked to Buchholz, who figures he still has something to give at the Major League level…
“I definitely wanted to get back before the season ended to pitch a few games and see if I could open a gate to next season,” Buchholz said. “It’s no secret the game is trending toward younger players but I feel good physically and can help a team.
“I feel like I’m capable of pitching as well as I did five or six years ago. It’s not about money. It’s about considering myself a major league pitcher.”
It’s safe to say that Buchholz has been a bit of a disappointment for the Blue Jays this season. After a nice bounce-back showing in Arizona last year in which he posted a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts, Buchholz was expected to be a veteran who could help solidify a shaky, young pitching staff. But, like pretty much everyone in Toronto’s rotation, he struggled with injuries.
Like Clayton Richard and Matt Shoemaker, the other two off-season veteran additions, Buchholz has spent most of the season on the Injured List. He didn’t make his Jays debut until the middle of April, made just five starts, hurt his shoulder, and went on the shelf until late August. To be honest, I wasn’t sure we’d see him pitch for the Jays again in September.
Since returning, Buchholz has actually been pretty good. Though it’s a three-start sample size, Buchholz has scattered seven earned runs over the course of 17 2/3 innings. He isn’t striking many guys out, but he’s throwing strikes and limiting hard contact.
The best thing about Buchholz, though, and the reason it would make some sense to bring him back next year is his ability to be a teacher.
On Monday, Clay Buchholz taught Trent Thornton a new curveball grip. Tonight Thornton used it to hold the Red Sox hitless for five innings #BlueJays
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) September 12, 2019
Even when Buchholz was injured, you could frequently see him on the game broadcasts sitting with young pitchers on the bench and showing them different grips. As the quote courtesy of Ben Nicholson-Smith above from Trent Thornton suggests, having Buchholz around as a teacher provides value to the team.
It’s well known that the Jays need to make starting pitching a priority this off-season. They’ve used a franchise-record-setting 20 starters this season (albeit, some of that has to do with being keen to use the opener) and the only veteran under contract heading into next season is Matt Shoemaker. Maybe Shoemaker, who will be coming off of a season-ending ACL injury, will be great next year as he was in his limited showing this year, but it’s hard to bank on him putting together a fully healthy season.
I doubt that the Jays are going to go hard at a free agent starter like Gerrit Cole this off-season, no matter how badly we all want that to be the case. I expect that the front office will dive more into free agency after the 2020 season so that they can allow T.J. Zeuch, Anthony Kay, Patrick Murphy, and others close to the Major Leagues an opportunity to prove themselves.
If that’s the case, having a savvy veteran like Buchholz, a guy who’s already created a relationship with young pitchers in the organization, around another year makes a lot of sense.