Red Sox manager John Farrell did not name a starting pitcher to face the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium for both Games 3 and 4, while Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported Felix Doubront pitched in a simulated game Tuesday afternoon at Fenway.
Whether the problem is psychological or physical, or perhaps a bit of both, there is no denying that something is bothering Buchholz.
In his two starts in the American League Championship Series, Buchholz looked sharp in his first five innings, but collapsed in the sixth inning with under 80 pitches thrown on the night.
Left in too long in Game 2, Buchholz was responsible for all five Detroit Tiger runs before leaving.
In his Game 6 start, Buchholz’s fastball velocity dipped into the low-80s before his quicker sixth-inning hook.
Grand slams by David Ortiz in Game 2 and Shane Victorino in Game 6 turned those potential losses into wins.
Tuesday, Farrell named John Lackey starter for Game 2 Thursday, facing National League Championship Series MVP Michael Wacha for St. Louis. In turn, one could figure that Lackey would pitch Game 6 next Wednesday at Fenway if the series returns to Boston.
Given the uncertainty of Buchholz, Farrell may be second-guessed to death for that.
In an ideal situation, Buchholz will start Game 3 Saturday in St. Louis and be on full rest if the series goes the distance at Fenway Halloween night.
Setting up Buchholz to take the ball in Game 7, however, is not looking like the best strategy.
Coming off a neck-and-shoulder injury that held him out of the rotation for 12 weeks, Buchholz was stretched back to his normal workload by the end if the regular season.
A nervous Buchholz survived six innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 3 of the AL Divisional Series at Tropicana Field. Buchholz’s pinpoint control was off as he walked three in the lone Red Sox loss of the series.
Although he threw a higher percentage of strikes against the Tigers, his location and velocity struggled the second time through the lineup.
Adding to the uncertainty is why Doubront would be stretched out for a three-inning scrimmage. After spending most of the season as a starter, Doubront lost his rotation spot when Buchholz returned in September and has thrown long-relief in his playoff outings.
Farrell does not have a lot of good options if Buchholz cannot go.
Jake Peavy would be the likely Game 3 starter if Buchholz is held back, giving Peavy the nod if the series goes the distance to start the last game. Peavy did not look sharp in his Game 4 appearance against the Tigers and would need to be greatly relaxed to avoid a disaster.
The other option would be using Jon Lester twice on three-days rest, throwing Games 1, 4 and 7.
Although the purists would love it, pitching twice out of routine may do more long-term damage for Lester than good.
Farrell will ultimately do what is best for the Red Sox. Still, that will not reduce the anxiety that the team and the fans face on the eve of the Fall Classic.
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