Red Sox

Clay Buchholz feels Chris Sale's pain, offers struggling Red Sox ace some advice

Clay Buchholz feels Chris Sale's pain, offers struggling Red Sox ace some advice

Chris Sale sounded lost after Sunday's mediocre start against the Toronto Blue Jays. Clay Buchholz knows the feeling.

The former Red Sox right-hander has experienced the slings, arrows, tridents, catapults, howitzers, and neutron bombs of struggling in Boston. He has also made the painful, identity-shaking transition from power pitcher to crafty pragmatist.

And after watching Sale surrender five runs in four innings and then admit, "I don't know if I've ever pitched like this in my life," Buchholz offered some perspective from both his time in Boston, and his own transformation.

"I think he still has it in there," Buchholz said. "He's thrown a lot of pitches over his career. I know he's a tough dude, but it's hard going out there and trying to pitch to 100 percent when you're only able to get 75 percent, and I've gone through that. It sucks. It's not fun. The results are under a microscope more than anything. When you're going out there with just a percentage of what you've built up to be, it's tough.

"It's a really mental game, and it can drive you insane."

Buchholz would know. He arrived in 2007 with a live arm and tons of promise, and in just his second start, he no-hit the Baltimore Orioles.

He rode the roller coaster from there, winning only two games in 2008, making his first All-Star team and finishing sixth in the Cy Young Award voting in 2010, and then posting a 1.74 ERA while going 12-1 in 2013, a season unfortunately curtailed by one of his many injuries.

He became a lightning rode with Red Sox fans who grew frustrated that the good times never seemed to last. He also managed to weather intense criticism by maintaining a chill, affable disposition, and as he nears his 35th birthday, he seems to have a good handle on his place in the game. He opened the season on the 10-day injured list and is slated to make his Blue Jays debut on Saturday vs. the Tampa Bay Rays.

"I've lived basically my whole baseball career with one thing in mind -- have a short memory of the good and the bad, knowing you're going to talk about both, but negative situations impact more people than positive ones," he said. "You've got to own up to it if it's on your shoulders, and a lot of times it was on me."

Buchholz's velocity peaked in 2009, when he had a fastball clocked at nearly 99 mph. The decline began in 2013, and he considers 2014 his last season with a truly plus heater. Thus began his reinvention, which culminated last year in one of his best seasons once he was healthy enough to take the mound. He went 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts with the Diamondbacks -- despite maxing out at 93 mph and sitting at 90-91 -- before an elbow injury shelved him.

"I've gotten to more of giving it 100 percent effort level, but maybe not max effort as far as ripping the ball and trying to throw every pitch as hard as I can," he said. "Last year, I relied on throwing it to a spot, rather than trying to drive it through a spot. It worked out a lot better for me. I never really felt stressed to have to do anything. My location was better, command was better, and I threw more innings per start last year than any year in my career.

"It just opened my eyes. You don't have to throw 95, 100 mph to get guys out. If you can keep guys off balance, that's really the name of the game. If you can induce early swings, weak contact, that's really the name of the game for a pitcher."

It's true that until leaving his final start last year during warmups, Buchholz had averaged nearly seven innings an outing (technically his second-best total, after 2013). He didn't do it by overpowering anyone, but by outthinking them, a concept which would've been hard to believe when Buchholz entered the league.

"I don't throw as hard as I used to, but I feel like now I'm actually a better pitcher," he said. "Just being able to know what I need to do, reading swings, knowing hitters' weaknesses, knowing my strengths on any given day and pitching to that rather than just looking at a lineup, flipping a coin, and throwing a pitch."

Sale isn't about to give up on the return of his overpowering velocity just yet. He actually showed slightly encouraging signs in that regard Tuesday, especially considering the cold, raw conditions, living more at 92-94 than 88-89.

Most pitchers, like Buchholz, must eventually make concessions to diminished pure stuff as they age. Of course, most of them didn't just sign five-year, $145 million extensions that don't even kick in until next season.

"I haven't talked to Sale or anybody about what he's going through, but it's a tough place to play when the results aren't in your favor all the time," Buchholz said. "I'm sure he's pretty stern with himself. He wants to perform, no matter what he's being paid."

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Mookie Betts is smoking hot and could reach a milestone only two others have seen in 70 years

Mookie Betts is smoking hot and could reach a milestone only two others have seen in 70 years

BOSTON -- We all agree that Mookie Betts is having a so-so year. He didn't deserve to make the All-Star Game, he hasn't carried the Red Sox like he did a year ago, and his production is down across the board.

And yet, if he continues on his current pace, he will score more runs this season than all but five players in the last 70 years.

If that's a down year, then sign the Red Sox the bleep up.

With so much attention on Rafael Devers maturing into a destroyer of men, we've managed to overlook one of the most significant developments of the last month -- Mookie is very quietly getting hot again.

He blasted his first homer of the month as part of a torrid July that has seen him hit .431 with 18 runs in 11 games. Those runs are important, because they're the one part of Betts' game that has not suffered a whit.

He leads the majors with 86 runs in 95 games, and at his current pace would finish with 145. With a little bit of luck, he could join Jeff Bagwell with the 2000 Astros and Ted Williams with the 1949 Red Sox as the only two to reach 150.

The way Devers is going out of the No. 2 hole, there's an outside shot the leadoff man will become only the 20th player ever to reach that 150 mark. As it is, he just joined Teddy Ballgame in the franchise record books for most consecutive games with a run at 13.

"I mean, yeah. I think when anybody scores, good things happen," Betts said. "But I think you need somebody to kind of get on base in front of Devers and (Xander Bogaerts), I think it's a good chance I'm going to score."

Betts is now hitting .284 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs. That's a far cry from last year's batting title, but as manager Alex Cora noted, Betts has taken his walks all year, which suggests a solid approach. His on-base percentage stands at .399, and nowadays every baserunner in front of the scorching Devers represents an RBI opportunity.

"Aw, man. It's been a lot of fun," Betts said. "I have one job and it's just to get on base and let him kind of take care of the rest. So it makes my job a little easier. Obviously I may get a couple more pitches to hit because nobody wants to face him and that's part of the game."

Since moving to the No. 2 hole on June 25 and pairing with Betts atop the order, Devers has been playing on another level. The 22-year-old is hitting .397 with seven homers and 25 RBIs in 17 games, his OPS pushing 1.300.

Betts has been of the primary beneficiaries.

"It's been a long season, but things are kind of coming around," Betts said. "It seems I've learned what not to do."

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Chris Sale finally wins at Fenway Park and leaves Red Sox with reasons for optimism

Chris Sale finally wins at Fenway Park and leaves Red Sox with reasons for optimism

BOSTON -- Over the last year, Chris Sale has made all manner of starts at Fenway Park. He has allowed five runs and he has allowed zero runs. He has struck out 17 and he has struck out one. He has pitched with playoff seeding on the line and nothing at all at stake. He has dazzled and he has disappointed.

The one thing he hadn't done, until Thursday afternoon vs. the Blue Jays, was earn a win.

It's hard to believe that one of the best pitchers in Red Sox history could own such an ignominious record, but here it was — no one had made more consecutive starts at Fenway Park (13) without a victory than Sale.

The Red Sox had won five of them anyway, including two when Sale went at least six innings without allowing an earned run, so it's not like he had pitched terribly. Wins are context-dependent and not necessarily an accurate reflection of a pitcher's performance. But come on — we're talking about Chris Sale! For him to go more than a year between Fenway victories (his last coming on July 11, 2018 vs. the Rangers) is practically unfathomable.

The Sale who ended that streak on Thursday may not have looked exactly like his vintage self, particularly as he searched to find his fastball velocity and command in the early innings. But he produced vintage results over six shutout frames, striking out 12, hitting 96 mph late, and putting an end to a run of futility that was beginning to make him wonder when the madness that is his underachieving 2019 season would end.

"I think this year has just kind of been all over the place," Sale said. "I've been as bad as I've ever been in my career and I've also had some of the best games I've ever had in my career this year. So it's one of those things, it's more confusing than anything. Kind of all over the map. You go out there, and 17 strikeouts, complete-game shutout and then games when I'm not even getting out of the fourth inning. It's just more confusing. I feel like there are times when I'm racking up strikeouts but I'm also sitting there in a five-run hole. It's like one thing but not the other, or two things, but not the third one. It's just about doing it all at the same time and getting the results you need."

Facing a Blue Jays team that had pounded him in three previous starts this season, including the home opener, to the tune of a 7.98 ERA, Sale varied his pitch mix with electric results. His fastball sat at 91-92 mph in the early innings while he relied extensively on a sweeping slider and darting changeup. He struck out the side in the first and had 12 Ks through five.

As the game wore on, his velocity increased, too, nearing 97 mph on his final strikeout of the game to end the fifth. With the Red Sox comfortably leading 4-0, he was lifted after 101 pitches and the bullpen brought it home without incident for once.

And just like that, Sale finally could call himself a winner in Fenway Park.

"Long overdue," he said. "Nobody else to blame but myself, but obviously glad to get this one out of the way and now we can just focus on what's ahead and keep the ball rolling and have a happy flight, get on the plane and get down to Baltimore and start off on the right foot down there."

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