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Healthy Clay Buchholz pushing Diamondbacks toward playoffs

Posted at 1:25 PM, Aug 24, 2018

The young Clay Buchholz used the scouting report merely as a suggestion.

He glanced at it, made a couple of mental notes, but basically threw whatever pitch was working or felt right in the situation. His stuff was that good.

The veteran Clay Buchholz relies on the scouting report much more. His stuff not quite as electric, the right-hander has to use his mind and his arm to get hitters out.

It's certainly working. Following a series of injury-plagued seasons, Buchholz has used a more targeted approach to revitalize his career and become a key cog in the Arizona Diamondbacks' push to a second straight playoff appearance.

"I try to pitch to hitters' weaknesses a lot more than I used to," Buchholz said. "I've gotten a lot better at knowing what part of the scouting report I can (use) and what I can do with it, rather than taking it all in and forgetting some of it and being unsure. I have a lot of other eyes on the whole scenario for me, too."

Buchholz has arguably been Arizona's best pitcher since signing with the Diamondbacks on May 5, going 7-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 13 starts. He tossed seven scoreless innings to beat the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday, a start after finishing off the San Diego Padres for his 10th career complete game.

The right-hander has been at his best as the NL West-leading Diamondbacks hit the stretch run of the season. Buchholz has won six of his past seven starts and has an eight-game streak of pitching at least five innings and allowing three runs or less.

"I think Clay has finally gotten to a point in his career where he's realized the type of pitcher he needs to be," Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. "I see it happening every single outing. I see him adapting to a game plan and I see him making adjustments to hitters in different ways. For me, that's the definition of mental toughness in a pitcher."

Buchholz has needed it.

He burst onto the baseball scene in 2007, tossing a no-hitter for the Boston Red Sox in his second career start. Buchholz made it through two more starts his rookie season before being shut down for shoulder fatigue. That began a string of injuries, including a pulled hamstring after making the All-Star team in 2010, a stress fracture in 2011, a knee injury in 2014.

Buchholz then suffered an elbow injury in 2015 that bothered him over the next two years before forearm surgery cost him most of the 2017 season with Philadelphia. He ended up signing a minor-league deal with Kansas City this year, but the Royals wanted to go young and kept him in Triple-A Omaha, so he opted out of the contract.

His future uncertain, Buchholz signed with the Diamondbacks, believing he could contribute but not knowing exactly what to expect.

"I feel like I have a lot pitches left in me," the 34-year-old said. "I've been hurt a lot and haven't thrown as many pitches as a normal 10-year major league guy. The way I look at it, I feel good right now so sort of proving to myself I was right then going out there and working."

Early in his career, Buchholz dominated hitters with a fastball that hit 96 mph. The velocity isn't quite the same -- it's still in the low 90s -- but Buchholz has made up for it by learning hitters' tendencies, mixing his pitches and locations. He also has leaned on pitching strategist Dan Haren, a former big-league pitcher, and Arizona's catchers to game plan against opposing hitters.

"At times, when I knew him as a younger pitcher, the tempo might not have been as good," said Lovullo, Boston's bench coach during Buchholz's time there. "He's doing a really good job with three pitches, three-plus pitches, and he's on a great run right now full of confidence."

Buchholz's run has the Diamondbacks running toward a playoff berth.

Entering Friday's play, the D-backs are currently one game ahead of Colorado in the NL West race, and 4.5 games ahead of the LA Dodgers.