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June 13, 2012

What You Need to Know

Wednesday, June 13

by Daniel Rathman

The Tuesday Takeaway
Yesterday’s takeaway from the series between the Red Sox and the Marlins in Miami was Josh Johnson’s return to form. After Tuesday’s 2-1 Boston victory, perhaps the same can be said of Clay Buchholz.

The 27-year-old Buchholz was dreadful from the start of the season through May 21. He coughed up seven runs in four innings to the Tigers on April 8 and never looked back, surrendering at least five runs in each of his next five starts. Buchholz finally snapped that skid in a victory over the Indians on May 11, but he pitched 6 1/3 innings in that outing without recording a strikeout. In a weak Boston rotation, the man who once tossed a no-hitter in his second big-league start was the weakest link.

The explanations for Buchholz’s struggles ranged from poor fastball command to a lingering back injury, both worrisome signs for a pitcher that the Red Sox had locked up with a $30 million deal that runs through at least the 2015 season. With Jon Lester and Josh Beckett sputtering—leaving Felix Doubront as Bobby Valentine’s only reliable starter—the Red Sox needed Buchholz to rediscover his peak form and add stability to the front of the rotation.

Last night’s outing at Marlins Park began on an ominous note, as Jose Reyes hit a triple to get the home team started for the second consecutive game. But unlike in Monday’s series opener, when number-two hitter Donovan Solano immediately plated Reyes with a sacrifice fly and paved the way for a three-run inning, the Marlins did not score in the opening frame. Buchholz made sure of that by striking out the next three batters.

He went on to pitch six more innings, giving up a run on five hits and two walks while striking out nine. The victory was Buchholz’s fourth consecutive start of at least seven innings with no more than two runs allowed—a feat that no other Boston starter has accomplished this year. Buchholz has also fanned at least six batters in each of those starts, his first such streak since the 2008 season.

The Red Sox are still just 30-32, in last place, and 6 ½ games behind the division-leading Yankees. But their outlook grew considerably brighter with last night’s win—a win earned despite the top three hitters in Valentine’s order going a combined 0-for-11. If Buchholz’s past four starts are any indication, the first-year skipper finally has another starter he can trust.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • There is just one matinee on the docket for this afternoon (12:37 p.m. ET), but those fortunate enough to watch it will see Stephen Strasburg on the mound for the Nationals. Strasburg fanned 13 Red Sox batters over six innings of two-run ball last Friday, and he carries a 92-to-19 K/BB ratio into his 13th start of the season, as the Nats look to complete a perfect 6-0 trip to Boston and Toronto.
  • If you are looking for a matchup of pitchers with contrasting styles, try tonight’s Mets-Rays tilt at the Trop (7:10 p.m. ET), which pits the knuckle-balling righty R.A. Dickey against the flame-throwing lefty David Price. Dickey has been remarkably consistent over the past two months, holding opponents to three earned runs or fewer in each of his past nine starts and keeping them off the board entirely in each of his past three. Price has delivered a quality start in seven of his last nine outings, and he owns a 0.96 ERA in five trips to the mound at home. The two go about their craft in entirely different ways, but this may prove to be the duel of the night.
  • The BABIP overlords have not been kind to Derek Lowe over the past two weeks, as the veteran righty has been saddled with seven or more earned runs in two of his last three starts. In tonight’s game against the Tribe’s intra-state rival Reds, Lowe will be forced to contend with outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who might just be his Kryptonite. No player with at least 15 career plate appearances against Lowe has an OPS better than Ludwick’s 1.632, which he has amassed by going 9-for-19 with four homers and a double in their previous meetings. Ludwick is batting just .206 on the season, so perhaps this date with Lowe is precisely what he needs to right the ship.
  • After recording just one win in his first six starts, Matt Cain has won each of his last six, and the Giants are undefeated with their $127.5-million man on the mound since May 1. That streak has helped Cain raise his career record back over .500 (76-75) for the first time since the 2007 season, and he will look to continue his newfound winning ways against the Astros—a team he has beaten only once in six career tries—tonight (10:15 p.m. ET). 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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