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03/12/08 8:40 PM ET

Third start's a charm for Buchholz

Young righty throws three scoreless before tiring in fourth

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For the first time this spring, Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz felt like the game was going at his pace. This time, he was in control.

After staring off with three no-hit innings on Wednesday, Buchholz faltered a bit in the fourth. But he looked at his performance against the Twins (3 2/3 innings, three hits, two runs, one walk, three strikeouts) as a step forward in his quest to win a spot in the rotation.

"I didn't feel like the game was going too quickly," said Buchholz, the prized prospect who threw a no-hitter against the Orioles on Sept. 1. "I felt like I kept the game at a good pace. All my pitches were just about where I wanted to throw them, except for a couple of them."

What set it all up for Buchholz was his fastball. Once he was throwing that for strikes, he could fool hitters with his changeup and curve.

"Even Major league hitters, when they know they have to respect a couple of different speeds ... The way that changeup is, it makes him pretty effective," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

The Red Sox haven't finalized their pitching plans yet, so Buchholz still wonders if he will start the season in Boston or Triple-A Pawtucket.

"I'm still in [limbo] on that one and waiting to hear what they have to say," said Buchholz. "Either way, I'd love to be up there and help this team win. But if it doesn't happen, I'll be up there in the near future."

Thanks to early off-days, the Red Sox won't need a fifth starter until April 12. Francona admitted that opening the season with four starters is a possibility.

"Sure it is," Francona said. "There's a lot of options. We just have to cover everything and once we know one thing, it will lead to the second thing. It will all shake out this week. We just need to let it go at its own course. I think we've talked to a lot of people. We know what our options are. We'll get it all straightened out."

Buchholz just hopes he's on board when the Red Sox leave for Tokyo on March 19.

"That would be an awesome opportunity. I've never gotten to go over there," said Buchholz. "If it happens, I'd love the opportunity. If it doesn't, I'll be ready whenever they give me the call. Hopefully, it won't be too far away from whenever they get back. I'm looking forward to that if it does happen for me. But if it doesn't, I'll just go about my business and try to keep doing everything right."

To right himself after those first two shaky outings of the spring, Buchholz refined his mechanics. He saw the results on Wednesday.

"I felt like my head was going towards the target I was throwing to today and I felt a whole lot more comfortable," Buchholz said. "I felt like it was coming out of my hand good. Changeups, fastballs, curveballs, sliders, everything, it felt good. It felt like it was on a downward plain, and I felt good today about it."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.