After decade in Boston, Clay Buchholz is energized for new chapter with Phillies

After decade in Boston, Clay Buchholz is energized for new chapter with Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. – It’s not easy leaving a team that is loaded for World Series bear for a rebuilding club that would consider a .500 season to be a fist-pumping success.

That’s what has happened to Clay Buchholz.

One day this winter he was part of a Boston Red Sox club that probably became the team to beat in the American League when it acquired stud lefty Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox in a December trade. Two weeks later, Buchholz was traded to the Phillies.

Truth be told, the righty didn’t expect to be part of the Red Sox’s World Series push in 2017.

He had a feeling he’d be traded this winter.

“I thought the [Sale deal] would have been the trade I would be a part of,” he said before his first workout with the Phillies on Tuesday.

Buchholz, 32, spent 10 seasons in Boston. He threw a no-hitter in his second big-league start, made two All-Star teams and won a World Series ring in 2013. He battled inconsistency in recent seasons and teetered in and out of Boston’s rotation in 2016. The Sox picked up the $13.5 million option on his contract after last season with the idea that some team might roll the dice that he would be a good bounce-back candidate in his free-agent walk year. The Phillies under general manager Matt Klentak have been willing to gamble on these types of players. The Phils sent minor-league second baseman Josh Tobias, a second-tier prospect, to Boston, assumed all of Buchholz’s salary and the deal was struck.

As much as the Phillies would like to shock the world and become a contender in 2017, they remain a rebuilding team on the prowl for young talent. Deep down inside, Phillies officials are probably hoping that Buchholz will give them four strong months, allowing for a little extra seasoning of their top starting pitching prospects, then bring some young talent in a trade.

Buchholz shrugged when asked about that possibility.

“I've been in trade rumors since 2005 when I got drafted,” he said. “I can't do anything with them regardless if I think about them or don't think about them. All I can do is go out and pitch and prepare and try to stay healthy throughout the season.”

In Philadelphia, Buchholz will work under pitching coach Bob McClure. The two have a familiarity dating to McClure’s time with Boston.

Last season, McClure helped Jake Thompson rebound from a rocky debut and have success by shortening and simplifying his delivery to the point where it was almost a modified stretch. Thompson is going to continue to use it this season.

Buchholz made a similar adjustment with Boston last season and it helped him get back in the rotation in September. He made five starts in the month and went at least six innings without giving up more than two runs in four of them.

“I eliminated a lot of movement I felt I didn't need and I could concentrate on throwing the pitch and throwing it well rather than [thinking about] mechanical flaws or trying to do something a little bit different within the windup,” Buchholz said of the adjustment to his delivery. “I'm coming into camp right now thinking I'm going to stay in the stretch. It worked out good for me.”

Wearing Phillies red before Tuesday morning’s workout, Buchholz said he was ready for a new chapter in his baseball life.

“I think everybody nowadays knows that one player doesn’t stay with one team his whole career,” he said. “There are a select few guys that have done that over their career — I was playing on the same team with one of them, Dustin Pedroia. He’s been a staple there forever.

“But I think a change of scenery for me, just to get somewhere else and meet some new guys and play for a different uniform, a different organization … The Red Sox, they gave me a lot, gave me the opportunity. But this is a new chapter, and I look forward to going on the field with these guys here.

“I think it energizes anybody. There are expectations that are brought back to you. That sense of complacency, being in one spot for an extended period of time, that’s gone. And, yeah, you want to perform for the new faces and show that you’re still good at your craft and good at what you do. I’m coming in here and hoping to definitely impress and help this team win some baseball games."

But there probably won’t be a trip to the postseason in 2017, not with the rebuilding Phillies at least.

“I look at it as an opportunity to prove people wrong,” Buchholz said.

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

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ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

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ATLANTA — Phillies rookie Nick Pivetta outpitched Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara Sunday afternoon as the Phils salvaged the final game of a three-game series with a 2-0 win at steamy SunTrust Park.
 
Maikel Franco smacked his 21st homer and Aaron Altherr had an RBI double for the Phillies' two runs.
 
Pivetta (7-10) pitched six shutout innings and the bullpen did the rest.
 
The Phillies ended up with a 13-6 record against Atlanta this season, their best against any team.
 
• Pivetta has mostly struggled in 25 starts in his rookie season, but he's also had some very nice outings where his potential has really shined. This was one of them. His last start, in which he gave up two runs in six innings against the Dodgers, was a good one, too. So the right-hander seems to be finishing on a high note. He will have one more start before the end of the season. In a perfect world, Pivetta would have gotten more time at Triple A this season, but there was a need in the majors. Ultimately, he should benefit from his baptism by fire.
 
• Atlanta lefty Gohara was very good in his fourth big-league start. The 21-year-old from Brazil gave up just five hits, walked two and struck out nine. The only run he gave up came on Franco's homer.
 
• Pivetta did a good job pitching around trouble. He got two outs in the second inning after an error by Franco put a runner on second. He also pitched around sloppy infield play in the fifth. In the sixth, Pivetta knocked down a ball back to the box but was unable to start a double play. He stayed calm and got two outs to get out of the inning.
 
• The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by Franco in the top of the fifth. Franco turned on a first-pitch changeup from Gohara. The pitch was on the inside half of the plate — right in Franco's happy zone. Franco pulls off pitches away in the zone, but he kills mistakes inside. Franco will work on this flaw in winter ball this season (see story).
 
• Altherr doubled home an important insurance run for the Phillies in the eighth inning. Altherr has 61 RBIs on the season and 27 have come in the seventh inning or later.
 
• Good job by the Phillies' bullpen. Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan pitched scoreless ball in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Morgan has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Hector Neris survived two hits in the ninth and picked up the save. He is perfect on is last 18 chances since June 28.

• The Phillies' first two hits of the game were singles to right field and both runners, Cesar Hernandez and Jorge Alfaro, were out trying to stretch at second base. Braves rightfielder Nick Markakis made two perfect throws. Hernandez needed to come out of the box quicker.
 
• The Phillies have a 35-40 record at home. They will play their final six games of the season at home beginning Monday night with the opener of a three-game series against the NL East champion Washington Nationals. Aaron Nola (12-10, 3.56) pitches against right-hander A.J. Cole (2-5, 4.43) on Monday night. Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14) opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.69) and right-hander Tanner Roark (13-10, 4.41) close out the series Wednesday night. The Phillies need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses.