Clay Buchholz will, in all likelihood, start 2009 where he ended 2008 -- in the minor leagues. The Red Sox announced Tuesday that he is going to begin the season in Triple-A Pawtucket unless Brad Penny is unable to make his first start of the season on April 12.
The promising right-hander, who threw a no-hitter in his second major league start in 2007, struggled mightily last season, going 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA before he was banished from the big league club for good in late August.
But just 24 and hardly the only talented pitcher to struggle in his first extended stay in the major leagues, Buchholz lost only a little luster as a result of his poor performance.
He remained the subject of winter trade rumors as the Red Sox searched for a catcher and made a strong push to make the rotation out of camp by posting a 2.52 ERA in six Grapefruit League starts.
On most teams his pedigree and spring performance would be enough to guarantee him a rotation spot, but Boston is eight starting pitchers deep this year, making him a victim of the numbers game as much as anything else.
Brad Penny, Buchholz's primary competition for the fifth-starter spot, has only made two starts so far this spring, but he is signed to an incentive-laden, but guaranteed, one-year, $5 million base deal. Though he's coming off injury, Penny has an impressive pedigree of his own -- he started the All-Star Game two years ago -- and because the minor leagues are not an option for him as they are for Buchholz, he won the job by default.
All in all, that's OK. Buchholz could probably use a little more polish in the minors. It can't hurt at this point in his career. And these kind of pitching logjams have a way of sorting themselves out anyway. If Buchholz is truly one of the best five starters in the Red Sox organization right now, he'll find his way to Fenway Park sooner rather than later.