Big League Stew

Red Sox ace Clay Buchholz making return against Rays on Tuesday night

David Brown
Big League Stew

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The Boston Red Sox have gotten along OK without right-hander Clay Buchholz, even though he was the American League's best pitcher through his most recent start June 8. They have gone 48-33 for a .593 winning percentage since Buchholz hurt his right shoulder, not far off from their 39-25 start to the season. But the AL East leaders also gained six games on second place since then. Boston leads Tampa Bay by 7 1/2 games heading into Buchholz's return Tuesday night against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Aside from another epic collapse — which just ain't happening again — it's only a matter of how much the Red Sox win the division by. Buchholz's return is much more important to Boston's postseason plans. And he could be just the guy to put them over the top.

WEEI in Boston reports that Buchholz will take it easy at the beginning:

Red Sox manager John Farrell said Buchholz will be on a 75-80 pitch limit against second-place Tampa Bay, which enters the three-game series 7½ games behind Boston in the AL East.

“At a certain point, yeah, I didn’t really think I’d be able to throw or let it go again. That’s what I was feeling. That feeling’s gone, and I feel good now,” said Buchholz after a bullpen session Sunday. “Mentally I’m ready. I think that’s what everyone was questioning — mental toughness and everything. But I know my body better than everybody else does. I’m comfortable pitching now. There’s nothing wrong that’s come up.”

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If it's hard to remember how successful Buchholz was before his injury, just look at the season Max Scherzer of Detroit is having. Buchholz had a 1.71 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings before shutting it down. The Red Sox went 11-1 in his starts. In his third start of the season, Buchholz dominated the Rays, striking out 11 and allowing two hits over eight innings. He was the leading Cy Young candidate among the gamblers.

[Related: Orioles and Indians gain ground in AL Wild Card race]

Given his pitch limitations, a double-digit strikeout performance won't happen Tuesday night, but if the Red Sox can get Buchholz pitching like he was come October, they will be an even bigger favorite to reach the World Series for the first time since 2007.

The Rays face a similar task with Buchholz's counterpart, left-hander David Price, who hasn't been injured but also hasn't pitched like he did earlier in the season. Getting him to be dominant will be key in securing a playoff spot and anything greater come the playoffs.

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