Buchholz in a groove at Pawtucket

Buchholz in a groove at Pawtucket

Clay Buchholz was determined to earn a spot in the Boston Red Sox's starting rotation during Spring Training.

The former big league phenom instead has been relegated to working his way back to the Major Leagues from Triple-A. So far, he's rising to the challenge quite nicely.

Buchholz struck out a season-high eight over seven one-hit innings Friday as the Pawtucket Red Sox rolled to a 4-0 blanking of the Columbus Clippers at Huntington Park.

"I got a hold of a couple of things that I didn't have a grasp of last year," Buchholz admitted. "I'm not really sure what it will take to get back to the Majors. I feel like I'm really in my prime right now."

The 24-year-old right-hander became an overnight sensation when he tossed a no-hitter in his second appearance in the Majors against Baltimore on Sept. 1, 2007. But he endured a difficult follow-up campaign.

After emerging as one of baseball's top pitching prospects, Buchholz went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in 16 outings for the Red Sox in 2008 before finishing the season at Double-A Portland. Though he pitched well this spring, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Texan was unable to land a spot in Boston's stacked starting five.

Undaunted, Buchholz has done his best to make the organization take a second look, going 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his first five International League starts. He has allowed only three hits over 12 1/3 innings in winning his last two outings but clearly was at his best Friday.

"Stuff-wise, it was probably the best performance I've had in my professional career," noted Buchholz. "Tonight, I had four pitches working and I was able to throw strikes in any count."

After walking Michael Brantley to start the bottom of the first, Buchholz retired the next four batters, striking out three. A one-out double by Jordan Brown in the second was one of only two hits by the Clippers, whose lineup featured four players with Major League experience.

Buchholz stranded Brantley before setting down 17 of the final 18 batters, including the last 11. He threw 60 of 86 pitches for strikes before calling it a night.

"Prior to the game, I felt a little heavy from the travel day the night before," he said. "I felt like it was going to be one of those days where I was going to grind. But everything came along and I felt very comfortable out there as the game went along."

Rocky Cherry, Chris George and Fernando Cabrera combined to limit Columbus to a hit and a walk over the final two frames, wrapping up Pawtucket's International League-leading seventh shutout of the season.

"This team down here is probably one of the best teams I've played for," said Buchholz.

John Torenli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.