Tuesday Dish: Rays’, Red Sox’ Top Triple-A Arms Produce Varied Results

Durham welcomed Pawtucket to town for a four-game set beginning last Friday, with both second-place clubs looking to make up ground on their respective International League division leaders. Just as significatnly, the Rays’ and the Red Sox’ top affiliates combined to send to the mound three of the most promising young righthanders at the Triple-A level.

Baseball America summer interns Dan Budreika and Matt Forman were on hand for two of the games, the ones featuring Durham’s Wade Davis, 23, and Pawtucket’s Michael Bowden, 22, and Clay Buchholz, 24.

Friday, June 19
Pawtucket 8, Durham 6

Wade Davis: 7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO, 1 HR

Davis had thrown 109 pitches through 6 2/3 dominant innings. With Joe Bateman warming up in the bullpen, Davis knew that Pawtucket DH Jeff Bailey was the last batter he would face. So Davis threw his fastest pitch of the night, a 95 mph heater that hit the inside corner and struck out Bailey. It was one of nine strikeouts on the night for Davis, who left with a 6-3 lead but earned a no-decision in the 8-6 loss. Davis lowered his ERA to an even 3.00 for the effort.

Davis pounded the zone with a heavy fastball throughout the night, consistently sitting between 91-93 mph. In the fifth inning, it looked like Davis took a little something off and solely worked on location, hitting 89 throughout the five-pitch inning. He also showed an almost unhittable 11-to-5 curveball at 82-84 and a straight changeup at 79-81.

David made one mistake pitch all night—a thigh-high fastball to Paul McAnulty, the first batter of the second inning. From his vantage point in the dugout, he had just watched the Bulls put a six-spot on the board in the bottom of the first. McAnulty’s big fly must have served as a wakeup call. Pawtucket then scored two unearned runs in the top half of the fourth on a swinging bunt that catcher John Jaso threw away. Also, one of the hits Davis gave up went off the glove of a diving Ray Olmedo at third base.

Davis showed great location, hitting spot after spot, and throwing 76 strikes out of 110 pitches. Although he is long in the back and short in the front of his delivery, Davis has been an absolute workhorse over the past few years. The fewest number of innings he has thrown over the past three years is 146. In 14 starts in 2009, Davis has thrown 78 innings—more than 5.5 per outing. One scout told me that if everything works out, he projects Davis as a solid top-of-the-rotation starter. And after this performance, it looks like Davis will be ready if and when the Rays make room in their rotation. (Matt Forman)

Michael Bowden: 1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO, 1 HR

Before Bowden’s first pitch, a scout mentioned to me that the righthander had taken an unusually long time to get loose before heading to the dugout. Perhaps that factored into his struggles. Bowden’s fastball sat at 89 mph through much of the first inning, and he managed to crank it up to 91 a few times toward the end of the inning, which proved to be the only frame he’d complete.

He struggled with his command the entire inning and threw just 21 of his 41 pitches for strikes. He walked the leadoff hitter and ended up walking the bases loaded before outfielder Justin Ruggiano crushed a grand slam to right-center field. All of the hits Bowden surrendered were hit very hard, and four of the five were rocketed down the right-field line. Bowden’s herky-jerky delivery typically allows him to hide the ball from opposing batters, but it seemed to have little effect in this outing. (Dan Budreika)

Monday, June 22
Durham 3, Pawtucket 1

Clay Buchholz: 3 2/3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 4 SO, 0 HR

Though we can’t be sure what pitching coach Rich Sauveur told Buchholz on his trips to the mound and talks between innings, we can guess that it was a variation on the pitching cliché: Get ahead to stay ahead. Buchholz had difficulty doing just that, and he never established a dominant presence on the hill. He showed flashes of brilliance, displaying his mid-90s fastball and knee-buckling curveball, but he went only 3 2/3 innings, matching his previous shortest outing of the season. The poor showing produced his first loss of the year but only set his ERA back from 1.90 to 1.93.

The 6-foot-3 righty struggled with control, walking a season-high five batters. Three times he walked the first batter to face him in an inning. Buchholz threw a first-pitch strike on just 7 of 19 tries, and just 43 of his 82 pitches (52 percent) were strikes. Bulls batters worked deep counts against Buchholz, who in turn worked slowly but never seemed to have a grasp of the game.

When Buchholz pitched for Boston in ’07 and ’08, he threw a fastball on roughly half of his pitches, a percentage well below the big league average. In this game, Buchholz threw 51 fastballs (62 percent) and was sitting at 93-95 mph. He mixed in a few two-seamers at 90-92, to go along with a near-even balance of changeups, curveballs and sliders. Interestingly enough, three of the four hits Buchholz surrendered came on fastballs, while the other came off a changeup.

Although the fastball ratio was higher than in the past, it seemed like Buchholz was trying to be too cute at times, using too much offspeed. When Buchholz was aggressive with his 95 mph heater and backed it up with a 12-to-6 curveball, he was unhittable. When Buchholz threw a changeup at 79 and backed it up with a slider at 83, hitters were putting good swings on the ball, though they didn’t result in hits.

In arguably his worst outing of the season, Buchholz was still able to control the damage. He worked out of a few tight situations, but clearly didn’t have his best stuff. Since his complete game one-hitter on May 25, Buchholz has been effective but not dominant. With two outs in the fourth inning, Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson took the ball from Buchholz without saying a word. The righthander was noticeably disappointed as he walked from the mound to the dugout with his head down and then appeared to kick something once off the field. (Matt Forman)


• Rays lefthander Scott Kazmir, who hit the 15-day disabled list with a strained quad in late May, opposed Buchholz last night. The 25-year-old made his second rehab start in total, but his first for Durham. He had compiled a 7.69 ERA in nine starts before succumbing to injury.

Kazmir had the PawSox flailing at his fastball and offspeed stuff for most of the evening. In six innings of work, he allowed one run on five hits while striking out five and walking none. Among his 78 pitches, 55 were thrown for strikes, and he threw a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 21 batters he faced (81 percent). Kazmir’s dominance could be viewed as unsurprising in light of Pawtucket’s meager output to date. The Red Sox .657 team OPS and 237 runs scored both rank second to last in the IL. 

The southpaw began the game sitting at 91-92 mph before settling in at 92-93 later in the game. He spiked 94 a few times, which was an encouraging sign. According to data available at fangraphs.com, Kazmir’s velocity this season was down almost two full miles per hour when compared with last year.

Kazmir’s slider gained more bite and his changeup more tumble as the game progressed. In fact, over the course of his final three innings, he began to focus much more extensively on his offspeed repertoire, throwing sliders or changeups about 66 percent of the time in innings four through six. (Dan Budreika)