Posted June 26, 2013

Boston’s Clay Buchholz still shelved by neck soreness

Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz
Red Sox ace Clay Buchholz left in the seventh inning on June 8 due to neck tightness. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Red Sox ace Clay Buchholz left in the seventh inning on June 8 due to neck tightness. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Clay Buchholz hasn’t pitched in a game since June 8, and from the sound of Wednesday’s news out of Boston, he may not be back before the All-Star break. According to the Boston Herald‘s Scott Lauber, Buchholz cut short his first bullpen session in eight days after around 15 pitches due to soreness in his trapezius, the neck muscle that moves the scapula.

Buchholz is off to an outstanding start this year, with a league-leading 1.71 ERA, a career-best 8.6 strikeouts per nine and a 9-0 record through 12 starts and 84 1/3 innings — a performance that at one point elicited accusations that he was loading up the baseball from Toronto broadcasters. That storm passed, but his last four weeks have been frustrating. Scratched from his May 27 start after sleeping irritating the acromioclavicular joint between the collarbone and the top of the shoulder blade, he didn’t pitch again until June 2, when he threw five scoreless innings against the Yankees.

Alas, Buchholz left his June 8 turn against the Angels after 6 2/3 innings due to tightness in his neck, then reported lingering soreness in his next throwing session, scuttling plans for his next start. The problem continued to bother him during his June 18 bullpen session, so he was placed on the 15-day disabled list. While he had thrown off flat ground from as far as 120 feet, hopes that he could complete Wednesday and Friday bullpen sessions before embarking on a rehab assignment have been dashed. From WEEI’s Alex Speier:

Red Sox manager John Farrell has offered no timetable for the 28-year-old righty’s return. At the very least, he’ll need to complete two pain-free bullpen sessions before pitching in a minor league game.

Buchholz’s absence has yet to really hurt the Red Sox, who are now 46-33 with a 2 1/2 game lead in the AL East; they were tied when he was first scratched. Alfredo Aceves has taken three of his four missed turns, allowing one run in each over a total of 17 innings, though he’s walked more batters (10) than he’s struck out (nine) in that span. Allen Webster, who took the most recent turn, was rocked for five runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Tigers; he’ll start again Friday against the Blue Jays. A well-regarded 23-year-old prospect acquired from the Dodgers in last summer’s blockbuster, Webster has occasionally flashed outstanding stuff in his three spot starts this year, but after a strong debut against the Royals on April 21 (six innings, five strikeouts, two earned runs), he’s yielded 13 runs and three homers in six innings.

In the grand scheme, the Sox would appear to need a healthy Buchholz to remain on top in the AL East, given that John Lackey (3.03 ERA, 67 percent quality start rate) is the only one of the other seven pitchers who have started a game for the team this year currently carrying an ERA under 4.15, and one of just two with a quality start rate above 54 percent. Ryan Dempster (4.15 ERA, 63 percent) and Felix Doubront (4.33 ERA, 54 percent) have been solid but not spectacular, but Jon Lester (4.57 ERA, 44 percent) has a 7.30 ERA over his last seven starts (just one of which has been a quality start), and fill-ins Webster, Aceves and Franklin Morales have a collective 6.08 ERA and three quality starts in 10. So like every other contender, you can bet that Boston will be in the mix for a rotation upgrade as the July 31 trading deadline approaches.

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