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Signs of the good Buchholz continue at Fenway

BOSTON ? Will the real Clay Buchholz please stand up? Does anyone know who that is anymore?
In his previous start, Buchholz threw one of the best outings of his career, going eight innings against the Mariners, giving up one run on three hits with no walks and 11 strikeouts, one shy of his career high. The outing improved his record to 2-4 with a 4.93 ERA.
Before the start of Thursday?s game against Texas at Fenway Park, I asked a uniformed member of the Rangers what the team?s approach against Buchholz would be.
His answer: It depends on which Buchholz shows up. If the right-hander were going to nibble around the plate, they?d let him nibble, drive up his pitch count, try to get runners on base, distract Buchholz, and create some havoc. If Buchholz came out attacking, throwing strikes, the Rangers would be aggressive.
Not exactly state?s secrets. But an interesting approach: Wait to see which Buchholz comes out.
The Rangers got a little bit of both Buchholzes in the first inning.
He faced six batters, and threw just 18 pitches. But he threw first-pitch strikes to just three batters in the inning, including a bunt single by Delino DeShields. Buchholz had the bases loaded with one out when Mitch Moreland grounded a changeup into what looked like a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts couldn?t handle the throw as two runs scored.
After that, it seemed the two faces of Buchholz were everywhere.
In the second, Buchholz needed just 11 pitches ? 10 of them strikes ? to retire the side in order, including a three-pitch strikeout of Leonys Martin swinging at a changeup leading off the inning.
Buchholz escaped with a 1-2-3 in the third with a little help. DeShields was on first after a walk when Bogaerts, breaking for second on a hit-and-run, was in perfect position to field Prince Fielder?s grounder, step on second and throw to Mike Napoli at first to end the inning.
Through the fourth inning he had thrown 66 pitches, 41 for strikes, with first-pitch strikes to just nine of 16 batters. He had given up a total of just three hits and two walks with two strikeouts. But Moreland?s solo home run in the inning, on an 0-and-1 cutter, gave Texas a 3-0 lead.
From the second through the seventh, Buchholz faced just one batter over the minimum thanks to three double plays, including two to end innings. He left in the eighth with a runner on second and one out.
In all, Buchholz went 7 1/3 innings, his second-longest outing of the season. He gave up three runs, two earned, on five hits and two walks. He threw 106 pitches (70 strikes), one shy of his season high. He struck out four, all swinging: three on changeups, one on a 91-m.p.h. fastball.
But he took the loss, falling to 2-5, lowering his ERA from 4.93 to 4.58.
Not awful, not great. Certainly more good than bad. Still, not exactly ace territory. He doesn?t make things easy for himself.
Maybe it was the best the Sox could hope for with Buchholz against Texas. Entering the game he was 1-4 with a 4.46 ERA in seven career starts against the Rangers. In his last outing against them ? May 9, 2014 ? he took the loss, allowing six earned runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings.
But perhaps Buchholz is trending in the right direction. In his last two outings, he?s gone a total of 15 1/3 innings, giving up four runs, three earned, on eight hits and two walks, with 15 strikeouts and two home runs.
Is it trending in the direction of being an ace? He needs to show more of the good Buchholz before that can happen.Maureen Mullen can be reached at mmullen@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MaureenAMullen.

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