Is Clay Buchholz for real?

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If you had Clay Buchholz being the first pitcher to five wins, please collect your prize. The Red Sox hurler, now 28, has had a great start to the season as seems to be the case for a lot of pitchers on the Beantown roster. Buchholz struck out ten Astros last night and has yet to allow more than two runs in any start thus far in the season. He is looking like a new-and-improved pitcher, perhaps better than the one we saw finish sixth in AL Cy Young voting in 2010, when he posted a 2.33 ERA.

The most striking change for Buchholz has been his strikeout rate. He has traditionally hovered between 16-17 percent, which is a shade below the American League average. In his first 38 innings so far in 2013, it’s at 27 percent. Marc Normandin of Red Sox blog Over the Monster asks the obvious question: can we trust his strikeout rate? His research shows that Buchholz’s sudden improvement wouldn’t be unprecedented.

Since 1993, 17 pitchers — including Boston’s own Jon Lester — have seen their K/PA increase by at least eight percentage points from one year to the next, minimum 100 innings in each season. The quality of these pitchers themselves varies, but that’s not the key question with Buchholz: what’s important is that jumps in strikeout rate like the one he is currently experiencing do happen, even if they seem unbelievable at first glance.

Consider that, plus the fact that it’s been expected Buchholz would eventually evolve as a starter once he grew into his stuff — that whole fractured spine thing kind of interrupted his growth as a pitcher, though.

Though strikeout rate is one of the best predictors for a pitcher’s success, I have a hard time buying Buchholz in the 27 percent area. The only pitchers that wound up there last year were Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish. I would, however, buy an improvement that puts him in the 20 percent area, which is certainly something for Red Sox fans to get excited about nonetheless.

Padres to recall Luis Urías

Luis Urias
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The Padres are set to recall top infield prospect Luis Urías from Triple-A El Paso, according to a report from Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. It’ll be the second such stint for the club’s no. 2 prospect, and one they hope to extend through the end of the season. A corresponding roster move will be announced later this weekend.

Urías, 22, struggled in his first promotion to the majors this April. Touted as “one of the Minors’ better pure hitters” with “innate bat-to-ball skills” and “plus on-base skills,” he found it difficult to adjust to big league pitching and slashed a lackluster .083/.241/.125 with just two hits and four walks over 11 games with the Padres.

Upon his return to Triple-A, however, the young middle infielder has delivered nothing short of spectacular results, batting .315/.398/.600 with 19 home runs, seven stolen bases (in nine chances), and a .998 OPS across 339 plate appearances. Given the additional measures he’s taken to improve his mechanics — something, Acee says, the Padres are far more interested in than his results at the plate — it seems he may be ready to handle the competition at the highest level on a long-term basis.

Urías is expected to be recalled in time for the Padres’ game against the Cubs on Saturday, where he’ll likely share the middle infield with fellow top prospect Fernando Tatís. The game is set for 2:20 PM EDT.