Closing Time: Clay Buchholz, on the cusp

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We've been waiting for Clay Buchholz(notes) to become a reliable fantasy starter, if not an ace, for a couple of years now. Based on what he showed us Thursday against the Rangers, he's pretty close to putting it all together.

Buchholz didn't get a victory against Texas – the Rangers scratched three runs across in the top of the seventh while Boston was never able to solve C.J. Wilson(notes) and friends – but let's not get hung up on the decision right now. The exciting thing is that Buchholz had his full arsenal working in this turn and it led to a dazzling 10-strikeout performance. Here, have a look. When Elvis Andrus(notes) heads to the bench shaking his head, he's speaking for most of the Texas batters. Buchholz has some nasty stuff. "You can't do too much better than that," said impressed catcher Victor Martinez. "He threw the ball great."

Buchholz now has 17 whiffs in his last two turns and he picked a nice time to find his best form – the Red Sox have a logjam in the rotation now that Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) is ready to pitch again. Buchholz probably had a spot secured before his Thursday start but this effort solidifies things (Tim Wakefield(notes) is headed to the bullpen). And who knows, maybe a strong push to the 2010 season will make Buchholz a hot trade chip again if the Red Sox decide to make another run at Adrian Gonzalez(notes).

The AL East is a hellish place for a pitcher to make his living, but if Buchholz can keep his head on straight, he's got enough stuff to keep the ERA under 4 and make a run at 170 or more strikeouts. And if he were to get traded out of the division (or out of the league), we're looking at a must-start pitcher in any format, even in shallow mixed groups. He's a recommended play at Toronto next week, a team that he beat three times in four starts last season.

Carlos Guillen(notes) ran into some bad luck Thursday night – he injured his hamstring while on the way home with what should have been an easy run – and he's headed for the disabled list. It's not a gigantic loss for mixed leaguers, but Miguel Cabrera(notes) might feel the sting a little bit, losing some protection in the lineup. Brennan Boesch is coming up from Triple-A and will likely fall into a left-field platoon with Ryan Rayburn (Boesch gets the heavy side, Rayburn the lighter side).

Justin Verlander(notes) didn't break out of his April slump but at least he got a victory for his mediocre effort in Orange County (5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 4 K). Verlander struggled with command for the entire night, which lead to a ton of foul balls (about a quarter of his pitches were fouled off) and a whopping 128 pitches for his short stint. The velocity is still in play and Verlander showed the same problems last April, so we'll give him a pass for the moment. A home date with Minnesota comes next week.

Anyone got a theory on Jake Peavy(notes)? We knew the move to the American League was going to be an added challenge for him, but he's been anything but dominant through four starts (7.66 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 15 K, 15 BB). Peavy blames his early struggles on mechanical issues (doesn't everybody?) and he thought he made some mild improvements in his Thursday turn, but they don't show up in the summary. I'll watch every one of his pitches in Texas next week and try to come up with a diagnosis for you.

There's not a lot to say about Milwaukee's 20-0 tap dance at Pittsburgh; have fun with the box score if you're tied to some Brewer bats. Pirates starting pitcher Daniel McCutchen(notes) shouldn't be in the majors right now, obviously, though the Brewers laid the wood to four of the six guys they faced. Octavio Dotel(notes) was pressed into the dreaded "non-leverage inning of work" and made a mess (5 H, 4 R, 30 pitches).

Mitch Talbot(notes) keeps doing his thing, shutting down the Twins over six innings Thursday (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K). He keeps the ball on the ground and had respectable strikeout numbers back when he was in the Tampa Bay system, but it's been a little bit of a Houdini act so far in 2010 (eight walks against six strikeouts over 20 innings). I'm not making a mixed-league pickup here, and I'm not recommending him for Tuesday's turn at Anaheim, either. If you're on board with Talbot, please make your best case in the comments.

We've seen four starts from Scott Baker(notes) thus far; two steps forward, two steps back. The Indians kicked him around for 10 hits and six runs Thursday afternoon, pushing his ERA up to 4.81. The strikeout-to-walk rate is in place, as it always is with Baker (15 whiffs, 5 walks), but opponents are squaring up too many of his hittable pitches (line drive rate of 24.1 percent). Unfortunately he misses the Royals this weekend; he'll work at Detroit next week.

Dallas Braden(notes) isn't the easiest pitcher to peg right now; he won his third game Thursday with a strong effort against the Yanks and his ERA and WHIP get your attention (2.77, 0.85), but he hasn't struck many batters out since that 10-spot in his first turn and he's allowed four homers in his last three outings. At his best this is probably a poor man's Mark Buehrle(notes), not a bad place to be but not an automatic addition in every mixed league.

Another homer and two hits for Miguel Olivo(notes), who's off to a peppy .303 start. From an offensive standpoint, there's not much for a reason for the Rockies to waste at-bats on Chris Iannetta(notes) (4-for-27, eight strikeouts) right now.

Not an Injury Blog: Ryan Zimmerman(notes) (calf) didn't play Thursday and has already been ruled out for Friday. … Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) had a CT scan Thursday and it was discovered that he has hairline fractures in four of his ribs. It's not clear what this does to his return timetable. … Brad Hawpe(notes) has a sore quad and didn't play Thursday. Jim Tracy never seems to mind injuries in the outfield, he likes shaping things up anyway. … Manny Ramirez(notes) still has plenty of oomph in his bat but his body looks all of 37 years old. He tweaked his calf injury Thursday and had to leave early; consider him day-to-day through the weekend. Reed Johnson(notes) might be needed for 250-300 at-bats this year as the Dodgers deal with the constant need for a Manny Caddy. … Brad Lidge(notes) (elbow) worked a scoreless inning at Triple-A Thursday and feels he is very close to rejoining the Phillies. He's hitting 93 mph on the gun, for what it's worth. … J.A. Happ(notes) has a strained forearm and went on the 15-day DL Thursday. Journeyman Nelson Figueroa(notes) steps into Happ's spot and will start at Arizona Saturday (from a fantasy angle, good for the D-Backs).

Speed Round: Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) mowed down the Nationals, as you'd expect (7.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K), running his record to 4-0. … Does anyone believe that Livan Hernandez(notes) is only 35? Does anyone believe how well he's pitched through three starts (0.75 ERA, 0.83 WHIP)? It's been mostly a pitch-to-contact miracle, the type of thing you don't bet on long term, but for the moment, it's a cute story. … Another hitless day for Clint Barmes(notes), pushing his average down to .205. He should be thankful that Eric Young is off to an even worse start in Triple-A (.163/.255/.245). … Ike Davis(notes) led the way for the Mets (3-for-4, two runs) helping Johan Santana(notes) secure his second win. Tom Gorzelanny(notes) picked up seven strikeouts on the other side, but he also ran up the pitches quickly and couldn't get out of the sixth (two unearned runs didn't help. … Anibal Sanchez(notes) got through 6.2 innings at Houston with just one run, but with only one strikeout for the night, I'm not overly impressed. The free-swinging Astros did their best to help (another zero-walk game for those shameless hackers).

Two more steals for Nelson Cruz(notes), who's starting to have that 30-30 glow about him. … Neftali Feliz(notes) needed the night off for the Rangers so Darren Oliver(notes) got a working man's save. No need to react to it, gamers. … If triple plays are your thing, the Yankees defense made your day Thursday. They're no big deal to me, just an example of what happens when some bad timing hits for the offense. … Here's the difference between Jamie Moyer(notes) and Derek Lowe(notes): Moyer knows how to pitch when he has nothing, Lowe doesn't. Moyer will make for a fantastic pitching coach if he ever retires; I can't think of a player who accomplished more with less over the last 20 years. … Another two hits for Ivan Rodriguez(notes), pushing his average to .449. There's no logical explanation for this run – he was a .249 hitter last year and .276 the year before – and I didn't get overly excited over Pudge when I ranked all the catchers Wednesday morning.


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