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BOS@HOU: Buchholz strikes out 12 in three-hit shutout

Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz has looked much more like his 2013 self in the past few weeks after spending about a month on the disabled list with a hyperextended left knee. His tough start to the season had at least something to do with bad luck, though.

Buchholz will hope that luck keeps turning in his favor when he takes the hill against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and the Blue Jays on Wednesday in the third of a four-game set at Rogers Centre.

More than 33 percent of balls in play have gone for hits against Buchholz. That number typically falls or rises closer to a pitcher's career average --- 28.5 percent for Buchholz. His FIP --- fielding independent pitching, which erases balls in play from an ERA-like number --- is 4.43, so he's been much better than his 5.46 ERA indicates.

Buchholz had his best start Sunday before the All-Star break, striking out 12 in a three-hit shutout in Houston. He followed that up with a rockier outing --- four runs on 10 hits over six innings Friday against the Royals, but Boston battled back to win, 5-4.

In five starts since coming off the disabled list, Buchholz has walked just one and struck out 26. With bad luck on balls in play, a strong walk-to-strikeout ratio always helps overall performance.

"I gave up some loud outs and some loud hits for the first couple of innings, but that's another team that swings the bat, and they put some balls in play that found some holes and led to a couple of runs," Buchholz said Friday. "The way the guys fought back tonight ... that was reminiscent of last year."

Dickey has been consistent if unspectacular, posting a 3.95 ERA, 1.295 WHIP and 2.22 K/BB ratio over 21 starts.

Home runs have been an issue for the knuckleballer, though, and they tend to come in bunches. He's given up 18, surrendering one in 11 of 21 outings. In a 5-1 loss to the Rangers on Friday, Dickey allowed five runs on six hits, two being long balls, while fanning seven.

"That's kind of become the motif, unfortunately," said Dickey, who has lost six of his last seven starts. "I'll be cruising along and then in that seventh inning, I threw a couple of really good knuckleballs they got singles on and then J.P. [Arencibia] timed one up right … and he hit a home run. Next thing you know we're down five runs."

Red Sox: Nava stays hot
• Daniel Nava, like Buchholz, fell victim to some bad luck on balls in play early in the season. That prompted his demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket not once, but twice.

Since returning for good in early June, Nava has been much better. In July and over the last two weeks, he's been outstanding.

The switch-hitting outfielder is batting .410/.467/.462 this month, and has at least two hits in four of his last five starts. He went 3-for-5 Monday and 2-for-3 Sunday with three RBIs. He sat Tuesday against southpaw J.A. Happ, giving way to lefty-killer Jonny Gomes, but will likely be back in the outfield against Dickey.

"He's done a good job when we haven't started him every day, where he hasn't been starting against some left-handers," manager John Farrell said Sunday, "but to stay ready, come in, and contribute, as he did today [is a big help]."

Blue Jays: Bench, bullpen changed with flurry of moves
• Things aren't going particularly well for the Blue Jays, who have lost 10 of their last 15. So they've made some changes.

On Tuesday, the club designated lefty Brad Mills for assignment, optioned catcher Erik Kratz and outfielder Darin Mastroianni to Triple-A Buffalo, and called up righties Aaron Sanchez, Esmil Rogers and second baseman Ryan Goins.

Sanchez, the club's No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, projects as a starter down the road, but Blue Jays management wanted to limit the 22-year-old's innings this season to around 130. He's already surpassed 100, and moving him to the bullpen means he can pitch for the rest of the year.

Goins, meanwhile, began the year as Toronto's starting second baseman, but lost his job because of his prolonged offensive struggles. In 24 games, he hit .150 (9-for-60) with a .420 OPS.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he expects to give Goins plenty of playing time moving forward. He'll likely be spelled at second base by utility man Steve Tolleson.

"I feel like I'm the same guy, same player, just a little more battle tested," Goins said. "Going down and having to pick myself back up and playing good enough to get back up here."

Worth noting
• Dustin Pedroia won the Red Sox's Heart and Hustle award for the fifth year in a row. In 2013, the second baseman won the overall award, beating out the other 29 winners, one from each club. Mark Buehrle won this year's Blue Jays' Heart and Hustle award.

• The Red Sox are in the midst of 13 consecutive games against AL East opponents.

• Toronto was 38-24 on June 6, owning the second-best mark in the American League at that time. Since that point, the Blue Jays posted a record of 14-25, second-worst in the AL.

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