Curt Schilling: Clay Buchholz Lacks Commitment Needed To Be An Ace
BOSTON (CBS) -- Many times in his career, Curt Schilling was the ace of his pitching staff. On the late-'90s Phillies, he was the ace. On the early-2000s Diamondbacks, he was Ace No. 2 behind Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. And on the 2004, curse-busting Red Sox, he was the ace, supplanting the beloved Pedro Martinez.
So when it comes to knowing what it takes to lead a pitching staff, Schilling knows the deal.
And when he looks at one-time teammate Clay Buchholz, he does not see a man who has what it takes to be the ace of a staff.
"Well, I don't think he wants to be one," Schilling said of Buchholz's ability to be an ace in an ESPN conference call. "I think there's a level of commitment mentally and physically you have to have, and there's a ‑‑ you have to have a little bit of a dark side, I think, in the sense that losing has to hurt so bad that you do whatever you can do to make sure it never happens again. I've never felt like that was ... Clay is just kind of, 'Hey, I'm going to pitch today.'"
The words are strong, but they're not unfounded. Buchholz has shown flashes of pure brilliance but has never been able to sustain it for even one full season. He's been unable to stay healthy, pinballing back and forth each of the past five years with his games started -- 28, 14, 29, 16, 28. He posted a 1.74 ERA in 2013, but he followed it up with a 5.34 ERA in 2014.
In five postseason starts, he's averaged 5 innings pitched, posting a 4.21 ERA and 1.442 WHIP.
He's clearly got the stuff, but to Schilling, Buchholz lacks the makeup.
"He's unbelievably talented, obviously, physically, but there's another level to the game, and I think that the reason he's been inconsistent," Schilling said. "Cy Young potential in numbers one year to what the hell happened next year is upstairs. I think it's all above his shoulders."
Schilling said the Red Sox have the pitching to put together a solid regular season, but when the postseason comes around, that lack of an ace could prove costly.
"I think that any time you have to pause to answer that question [of who's the ace], your team doesn't have a legit No. 1. If [Jon] Lester was here, you'd say Jon Lester. But it's not going to be Clay Buchholz," Schilling said. "But I think that's why the last couple years, you've seen teams win 96, 97 games and go three‑and‑out in the playoffs because they don't have that guy to hand the ball to and say, 'OK, this guy is pitching.' They don't have their Madison Bumgarner, and if you don't have that, I think it makes October tougher."
All in all, Schilling's words serve as a pleasant interruption to the typical banality of sports analysis. Most talking heads, and especially former players, are too frightened to express such strong opinions. That's doubly true when speaking about former teammates.
To be sure, if Schilling were 30 years old and heard a retired former teammate rip his abilities to shreds, he'd be madder than a wet hen.
The difference, though, is that 30-year-old Schilling would have responded to that critic by pitching his tail off and applying the laser-like focus that is necessary to be a top-flight pitcher in the major leagues.
Yet with Clay, the response has historically fallen somewhere between underwhelming and nonexistent. Monday afternoon in Philadelphia, he'll get his first chance to prove he's got something "above the shoulders."
Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.
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