Due to a shoulder injury, three months and two days passed between starts for Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz so he would have been forgiven for demonstrating some rust during his return to the mound. But there was not even a hint of iron oxidation to his pitches on Tuesday as Buchholz easily pitched the Red Sox to a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Since he had not pitched in such a long time, Buchholz was not asked to go deep into the contest. He only pitched 5.0 innings and threw 74 pitches during his appearance, but even though he did not even qualify for a quality start, Buchholz still packed quite a level of brilliance in his outing. Buchholz struck out 35.3 percent of the 17 Rays batters he faced, walked just one batter, and only allowed four base runners over five innings; three Rays hitters hit their way on base.
His lack of rust extended to the way in which he pitched when he had to deal with a batter at the plate and also runners on base. Buchholz was able to strand every single base runner he allowed, recording outs in such an efficient fashion that no Rays batter made it past second base against him.
Buchholz's spectacular pitching proficiency allowed him to post a win probability added of 0.255 in 5.0 innings, giving him one of his more valuable starts this season.
The Red Sox's pitching dominance did not end when Buchholz left the game, however, but continued throughout the rest of the performance. The three relief pitchers who followed Buchholz, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara, not only matched Buchholz pitch for pitch, but even surpassed him in win probability added due to the fact they pitched in higher-leverage situations.
The three relievers combined to concede just three base runners and struck out three of the 14 batters they faced to make sure that the Rays were not able to come back from a 2-0 deficit. Combined, they posted a win probability added of 0.274 over the final four innings of the contest.
While the pitching was earning the Red Sox the victory, the offense did just enough not to waste a great pitching effort. In the fifth inning, the Boston Red Sox used a Mike Napoli double, a Jonny Gomes single, a Daniel Nava sacrifice bunt, and a Jarrod Saltalamacchia sacrifice fly to score their only two runs of the contest. It was not an overly impressive offensive display, but with the quality of pitching the Red Sox received, it did not need to be.
With the victory against the Rays, the Boston Red Sox increased their division lead 8.5 games with 16 games remaining and will probably not be seriously challenged until they reach the postseason.