When Clay Buchholz was exiled to the Red Sox bullpen in late May, there was every reason to believe that his career with the team was effectively over.
At the time, Buchholz owned a 6.34 ERA and a boatload of rationalizations. No matter how bad one of his starts had gone in the first two months, Buchholz would offer a his own desparate-sounding spin.
Some balls found holes.
Felt squeezed on a few big pitches.
They didn't hit a lot of balls hard.
When Buchholz was finally jettisoned from the rotation, the move, inexplicably, seemed to catch him by surprise. He sulked a bit in Toronto for a few days, then swallowed his disappointment to pitch a scoreless inning in relief and capture a win in his first bullpen appearance in years.
After injuries hit, Buchholz returned to the rotation again and, again, fared poorly. When he learned that a 4 1/3-inning outing against the Angels -- in which he allowed seven hits and six runs, though only three were earned -- would get him sent him back to the 'pen, he offered the comical assessment that, hey, he'd been worse than that before and remained in the rotation.
But something seemed to click soon after for Buchholz. He made some adjustments to his delivery. He pitched out of the stretch full-time, which seemed to focus his mechanics and improve his command.
Suddenly, the walks were almost non-existent. Also, his velocity began to creep up. And finally, Buchholz, who can throw up a half-dozen different pitches, seemed to gain the ability to quickly determine which ones were working and, critically, which ones weren't.
Gone was the inefficiency and the big innings that haunted his first few months.
Buchholz's turnaround seemed to make good on the notion of his dwindling band of supporters that he could, eventually, be counted on for a good run of appearances -- assuming he stayed healthy.
Now, here it is September, and that run is in full swing. Since the All-Star break, Buchholz sports a 3.09 ERA. And in his last four spot starts, he has an ERA of 2.31.
Suddenly, Buchholz doesn't resemble a major-league pitcher as much as he does the start of some horror series. Like Jason from Halloween or Freddy from Friday the 13th, Buchholz can't be killed off.
Eventually, he's going to come back.
And now he has.
"Very proud of him,'' John Farrell told reporters after Buchholz allowed a single run over 6 2/3 innings in the Red Sox' 5-1 win over San Diego Tuesday night. "Proud of the resilliency he's shown. And he's not stopped working. When you move to the bullpen, you can take it one of two ways. He's taking it in the right way and has worked to get better.''
Four months ago, it seemed he was through. Just five weeks ago, many wanted him traded at the deadline, regardless of the return.
But here it is September and Buchholz is pitching his best baseball of the season, part of a revamped rotation, and maybe, just maybe, part of a postseason rotation.
"It's how you finish,'' Farrell noted, "and he's finishing in good fashion.''