Buchholz impressing in Triple-A stint

Buchholz impressing in Triple-A stint

ST. PETERSBURG -- It seemed fair enough back on May 31 when the Red Sox's brass informed Clay Buchholz that he would not be judged by his numbers during his return stint to Triple-A Pawtucket.

It was a way of alleviating the pressure from the ultra-talented right-hander so he could work on his fastball command and make some minor mechanical adjustments.

A month later, you can be sure that Buchholz won't mind at all if the Red Sox begin to let statistics impact their judgment.

Buchholz has been mowing through opponents in recent weeks, hardly looking like a Triple-A pitcher. After firing five shutout innings at Syracuse on Monday night, Buchholz lowered his ERA to 1.63 in his eight starts for Pawtucket.

Earlier this season, Buchholz took a regular turn in the Boston rotation, going 2-3 with a 5.53 ERA over eight starts.

Buchholz just might be inching toward a return engagement at Fenway.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona was expecting to have a phone conversation with general manager Theo Epstein before Tuesday night's game with the Rays, and one of the subjects was likely going to be the recent improvement of Buchholz.

"When he threw his fastball here and didn't locate it, I think it got hit a little harder than we thought it should for the stuff he throws," Francona said. "We didn't want to run him down there for one start, two starts. I think we felt like he could go down and throw his changeup whenever he wanted to and get outs. But in certain situations, we made him throw his fastball, which I think long-term will benefit him."

There was also the mechanical adjustment Buchholz made.

"Slightly adjusted arm angle," Francona said. "[Moving] away from his ear a little just to create some two-seam movement."

The biggest problem Buchholz has now is that the Red Sox don't have any vacancies in their starting rotation.

Justin Masterson has struggled with his control lately, walking nine batters in his past two starts. However, Masterson is still listed as Boston's starting pitcher for Saturday's game against the Yankees in New York.

The rotation will get even more depth when Bartolo Colon (back injury) returns from the disabled list. Colon has played catch at 60 feet the past two days.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.