MINNEAPOLIS -- Clay Buchholz, who has a 9.00 ERA after three starts, has been working on fine-tuning things on the side, hopeful that he can do a better job at keeping the ball down in the strike zone than he has in his first few outings.
"It's a work in progress," said Buchholz. "It's all release-point related. Once you find the release point, I think the changeup will come into effect. That's been up, too. When my four-seamer and two-seamer is down, usually my changeup's down because it's basically the same pitch with a little different grip.
"Once I get to that point and throw some good pitches and get out of the couple of innings without giving up any runs, I think it will (come around)."
Indeed, Buchholz has struggled in the early going of all three starts this season. He gave up four runs in the first and another in the second in his first outing, April 8 in Detroit.
In his next start, against Tampa Bay on April 14, he was again tagged for four runs in the first and another run in the third. Finally, last Friday against the Yankees, he was nicked for a run in the first and two more in the third.
Buchholz had a side session with pitching coach Bob McClure Monday and was satisfied with the progress made.
A particular focus was working on his changeup, which he's had difficulty finding a feel for.
"My changeup's always been a pitch that I've been able to throw 2-and-0, 3-and-0, 3-and-1," said Buchholz. "I don't have that confidence in it right now to go out and throw it like I have in the past. That's what I've been working on the last few weeks."
"I thought he had a great bullpen yesterday," said manager Bobby Valentine. "In his last game, obviously he centered a lot of balls but he also threw a lot of quality pitches. We've got to get that consistent quality, down in the zone. When he's down, he's pretty effective. Very effective."
Buchholz, of course, missed the final 3 12 months of last season with a lower back stress fracture and he acknowledged Tuesday that he's still trying to overcome the "rust factor."
"Yeah, I think there's some rust, even when you don't think there's going to be," he said. "There's always the hesitation going into a game, not really knowing what to expect -- not physically, but mentally -- where you're not part of something for a while.
"There's a couple of guys in the game right now coming off injuries who are off to a little rougher start than they expected. It all goes hand-in-hand. You know you're going to have some ups and downs and you've got to figure out a way to get through it."