Clay Buchholz pitched well on Sunday, but can he give the Arizona Diamondbacks a legitimately reliable starter?
Before Sunday, Clay Buchholz last stood on a major league mound on April 11, 2017 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. That outing did not go well, as he allowed six runs in 2.1 innings, and he also came out of it with a torn flexor tendon in his right arm that cost him the rest of the season.
Buchholz signed a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royals in March, and after posting a 1.13 ERA in three total starts for the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates he opted out of that contract on May 1. He then landed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, made one start in Triple-A and was promoted to make his first major start in more than a year Sunday against the New York Mets.
Buchholz got a no-decision in a 4-1 Diamondbacks’ loss, but he went a solid five innings while allowing one run on two hits with two strikeouts a walk. His only blemish was a home run allowed to Mets shortstop Amed Rosario in the bottom of the sixth inning, after which Buchholz was removed from the game with 61 pitches (39 strikes).
Arizona is a little thin in the starting rotation right now. Taijuan Walker is out for the season after Tommy John surgery, and Robbie Ray likely out a bit longer with an oblique issue. Shelby Miller may return at some point this summer after his own Tommy John surgery, and a one-start trial run with Kris Medlen did not go well.
Patrick Corbin and Zack Grienke are a good 1-2 atop the rotation, and Zack Godley has been fine (3.78 ERA), but the Diamondbacks can definitely use another reliable starter.
Buchholz was a two-time All-Star with the Boston Red Sox (2010, 2013). But he has not been that pitcher in a long time, due mostly to injuries, and his 4.78 ERA with a 6.0 K/9 rate over 37 appearances (21 starts) for Boston in 2016 looks like who he is now.
Just two strikeouts on Sunday makes it clear how well Buchholz missed bats on Sunday. But he also only induced six swinging strikes from Mets’ hitters, and of his remaining 13 outs nine of those were fly ball outs. That fly ball tendency, combined with a lack of strikeouts, won’t play well in a hitter-friendly home park like Chase Field.
With his good outing on Sunday, Buchholz has probably earned himself at least one more start for the Diamondbacks. But he won’t pitch to an ERA below 2.00, or much below 4.00 or 4.50 really, over the longer haul. As they try to stay atop the National League West, expect Arizona to be in the market for a starting pitcher.