Clay Buchholz looked like a solid candidate for this year's AL Cy Young Award until he missed three months with a strained neck.
Last year's winner, David Price, has hardly looked like one at all.
Buchholz will make his return for the Red Sox on Tuesday night as he opposes Price and a Tampa Bay Rays team struggling offensively as it tries to hang on to a wild-card spot.
Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA) declared himself ready to go after a Sunday bullpen session at Yankee Stadium.
"Everything was good," Buchholz told the team's official website. "I threw all my pitches. Curveball was probably the sharpest pitch I threw, and that's usually the last one I get the feel for in spring training. I threw everything: cutter, sinker, fastball. It all felt fine."
He previously gave up two runs and struck out five in 3 2-3 innings for Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday.
Though manager John Farrell indicated Buchholz will be limited to 75-80 pitches, he has high expectations.
"We're hopeful we get a guy that's close to what he was prior to the injury, and it would be an additional lift to this rotation," Farrell said.
The Red Sox have won 11 of his 12 starts this year as he allowed two or fewer runs in all but one of them.
Buchholz said he wants to get back in that kind of form in time for a potential trip to the postseason.
"I want to make sure that I'm ready for that," he said.
The Rays are likely less than thrilled to see Buchholz. He has a 2.53 lifetime ERA against them including eight innings of two-hit ball in a 5-0 win April 14.
That doesn't bode well for a Tampa Bay team which has scored a major league-low 41 runs since Aug. 25. Matt Joyce hasn't homered in that span and is in 2-for-29 slump, and Evan Longoria is hitting .176 with three RBIs in the last 14 games.
The Rays have lost 11 of 15, with the four wins coming when their pitchers held the opposition to one run.
Four teams are within four games of the Rays (78-64) for the AL's second wild-card spot.
"We've got enough baseball left. We're still in a position to make the postseason," Price told the team's official website. "We still control our own destiny."
Price (8-7, 3.51) has been a bit shaky in his last five starts, posting a 4.78 ERA with 37 hits allowed in 32 innings.
The left-hander yielded six runs and 11 hits in seven innings of a 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday.
"It's frustrating when you go out there and don't perform well for your team," said Price, who also mentioned he needs to "make better pitches earlier in the count."
Price has defeated the Red Sox in two starts against them since the All-Star break, allowing two runs in 16 1-3 innings, but both were in Boston. They tagged him for four runs in 2 1-3 innings at Tropicana Field on May 15, and he left with triceps tightness in the 9-2 loss. Price is 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA at Fenway Park but 4-4 with a 4.33 ERA versus the Red Sox at home.
Boston has won three straight series on the road and six in a row overall after taking three of four from the Yankees despite losing 4-3 on Sunday on Brandon Workman's wild pitch in the ninth.
The Red Sox (87-58) are batting .361 with 18 home runs over their last five games.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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