BOSTON -- Ready to make his second start since June 8 on Sunday night against the Yankees, Clay Buchholz doesn't think his pitch quality is as sharp as it was during the first half of the season.
After missing more than three months with a bursa sac injury, Buchholz said his body feels incredibly fresh for this time of year. But freshness doesn't translate to consistency, which takes time to build up.
"The innings -- obviously you can get worn out from that, but the repetition from doing the same thing over and over again, that's how people get better throughout the season," Buchholz said. "It's tough not throwing for 2 1/2 months."
Buchholz was still able to shut out the Rays over five innings of work on Tuesday. He held them to just three hits, struck out six batters and needed only 74 pitches to do it.
Sharp or not, Buchholz has already impressed, particularly with his curveball and changeup, which usually take the most time to master after long layoffs.
Why no rust? Asked how often he had a baseball in his hand during the three months off, he said, "always." Even during his rehab starts, which many pitchers use to simply fire fastballs and test their arms, Buchholz was throwing six different pitches.
"It was impressive to see him go out in the first start back with us and have the feel to the secondary stuff," manager John Farrell said. "So to his credit, he just has that ability to manipulate the baseball."
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who caught Buchholz on Tuesday, said his fastball had plenty of life and his curve and changeup were biting as usual. Command was the only issue.
"Just a few fastball locations, but then there were counts where he located his fastball really well with good velocity," Saltalamacchia said. "Part of that is just him easing himself into it, which is what we needed him to do. He doesn't need to go out there and try to throw 100 percent, hurt yourself again or leave the ball up."
Farrell said there will be a pitch count in mind for Buchholz's start on Sunday. But Buchholz has shown he can still be dominant, even as a work in progress.
He really only needs two things: fastball and cutter.
"For the most part, if I'm able to throw a fastball for a strike, I'm able to throw a cutter off that fastball," Buchholz said. "So I'm a sinker-cutter guy, and I throw a lot of those over. If I'm able to throw to both sides of the plate just using those two pitches, that's really what I've been doing all year. And then every four times I throw a curve ball I can drop it over for a strike; that starts to count another pitch.
"There's a point in every game where you're going to need another pitch. Regardless if it's a strike or a ball, the hitter knows you might throw it, so that puts another pitch in the back of their head."