BOSTON -- Before Friday's outing against the Orioles, it had been two months since Clay Buchholz started for the Red Sox, and manager Terry Francona was happy prior to the contest thinking about the 23-year-old making his way back to the rotation.
"We're excited," Francona said before the game. "I think the one thing is, we'll have to fight either way. If he throws a no-hitter, he's going to the Hall of Fame. If he gets hit around, he's not good enough."
Buchholz's return wasn't exactly the no-hitter Francona mentioned. The right-hander labored through a 29-pitch first inning before leaving after the fifth and taking the loss in Boston's 7-3 defeat. Still, there was room for optimism in what the Sox saw.
"I was trying to impress," Buchholz said. "Being down in Triple-A, knowing that I was sent down there to work on some stuff ... [I was] trying to show that I got better down there. Trying a little bit too hard."
Buchholz last pitched on May 12, against Minnesota. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list shortly after that contest with a broken fingernail on his right index finger and spent all of his time with Triple-A Pawtucket until Friday.
Francona and pitching coach John Farrell have stressed that the biggest initiative in keeping Buchholz with the PawSox for two months was to work on his arm-slot mechanics and improve his fastball. But on Friday he was back, facing the team he no-hit in his second career start in 2007 -- the Baltimore Orioles.
This outing did not go quite as smoothly.
"I thought he had times when he worked ahead and then tried to make a great pitch," Francona said. "[He] worked the count back into hitter's counts, or evened up, and it was 107 [pitches] after five [innings]. That's a lot, but I did think there's a lot to like."
Buchholz took the rotation spot of Justin Masterson, who was sent to Pawtucket earlier in the week to be converted into a reliever. Throughout his own stint with the PawSox, Buchholz showed his dedication toward making the necessary improvements to his game.
"He's done a good job of working," Francona said. "We've asked him to do some things, some a little differently, and he's done everything we've asked. And we're proud of him."
And even though Buchholz took the loss in this outing, there is room for optimism heading into the second half of the season.
"I felt really smooth, didn't feel like there were a lot of jerking motions going on," Buchholz said. "I felt good overall with the fastball and most of my pitches."
Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.