Clay Buchholz' best pitch last night may have been the one that never left his hand.

In the midst of a battle of wits and splits with the Pittsburgh Pirates' $50 million man, Andrew McCutchen, the center fielder stepped out of the batter's box at the last possible second, leaving as Buchholz entered into his windup.

When the right-hander realized what happened, he pulled up, wrenching his back in a way that a year ago might have left him groveling on the ground at JetBlue Park. Last night all it did was leave him chuckling at an old nemesis.

"That was a lot of torque and force going forward," Buchholz said of the pitch that wasn't after he finished a three-inning stint. "That was good."

The condition of Buchholz' formerly broken back will be an ongoing concern for many but no longer seems to be for him. He threw pain free again last night, doing what he liked without feeling the stabbing ache that kept attacking him whenever he went to the mound last year.

"It's been good," said Buchholz, who allowed three hits. "I haven't had any lapses in pain or days where I needed to take a light day or a day off.

"My goal is to be injury free. Nobody can predict, but I've done everything I could to prevent it."

Last night he did everything he could to gain mastery of his changeup, a pitch of particular importance to his success.

"That was the pitch I threw the most beside my fastball," Buchholz said. "I threw a couple really good ones (last night).