Momentum lost in Beckett's early struggles

759868.jpg

Momentum lost in Beckett's early struggles

BOSTON -- Before Friday night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said that he doesn't believe in momentum.

And was he ever right.

The old phrase in baseball, with regards to momentum, is simple. It's as good as the next day's starting pitcher.

Josh Beckett took the hill on Friday night, trying to keep Boston's two-game win streak alive following back-to-back solid one-run outings from Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz.

And spirits were riding high entering Beckett's 16th start of the season, thanks in part to Cody Ross' ninth-inning walk-off home run the night before.

"I don't believe in momentum," said Valentine before Friday's game against the Blue Jays. "I mean, I think that you could have momentum in a game and in an inning, but I don't think yesterday necessarily carries over, other than you have a good feeling when the game starts."

Even that would be a stretch, mainly because of Beckett's brutal 10.20 first-inning ERA this season.

But Beckett struck out Toronto lead-off man Anthony Gose to begin the game. And it looked like things would be different in this first inning.

Then Colby Rasmus drove a ball over Cody Ross' head in right field for a one-out triple. And in the next at-bat, Edwin Encarnacion grounded to third, and Will Middlebrooks decided to try and throw Rasmus out with a tag at home.

The throw was in time, the tag seemed good, but the ump called him safe, and the Blue Jays led 1-0. An Adam Lind single and then a J.P. Arencibia single scored another Toronto run, and it was more of the same for Beckett in the first.

"I thought the first inning, I made decent pitches," said Beckett, who also defended Middlebrooks' aggressiveness on his throw to the plate. "The second inning was the inning where things got away from me."

Yunel Escobar led off the top of the second with a double, and then Beckett got two outs, with Escobar eventually getting to third. That's when it fell apart.

Beckett was ahead of Gose 0-2, and then threw four straight balls for the two-out walk. And Rasmus made him pay, driving a two-out, two-run double the other way, off the top of the monster, giving the Blue Jays a 4-0 lead after two innings, and leading to a 6-1 Toronto win.

"Well I thought he had good stuff all night," said Valentine after the loss. "The leadoff strikeout I thought was good. Then Rasmus hit a low curve ball over Cody's head, and then we got a ground ball to third and we didn't get an out on it.

"He made a couple bad pitches in the first couple innings, and there were four runs. But he had pretty good stuff tonight."

Beckett allowed another run in the fifth, but it was unearned, thanks to a Will Middlebrooks error. Still, he picked up his eighth loss of the season after allowing four earned runs on seven hits and three walks, while striking out seven in six innings.

"I can't say that I'm looking at a whole lot of positives from that outing," added Beckett. "I got burned whenever I didn't make pitches."

Both Valentine and Beckett wish they could have back Gose's second at-bat of the game in the second inning, which was a two-out walk that gave Rasmus a chance to break it open, which he did.

"That 3-2 curveball to walk Gose, I think he lost a little concentration," said Valentine. "And he just threw a fastball out over the plate to Rasmus the next pitch. Before we knew it, it was two runs. He's out of that inning if he drops a curveball in there."

Other than that, Valentine still thought Beckett had "good stuff" in his last two outings.

"I thought he had good stuff tonight," said Valentine. "And I thought he had good stuff the last time out."

Beckett got the win his last time out. It stands as his only win between now and May 20. He's 5-8 with a 4.53 ERA. His and Jon Lester's win total (five each) matches that of Daniel Bard, who's been in Triple-A Pawtucket since June 5, and Bard's last win was on May 29.

"Obviously the results are not where we want them to be, but you've just got to keep going out there," said Beckett. "There's nothing you can really do."

The Red Sox would like those early-inning mistakes to be limited. And until that starts happening, the belief in momentum certainly won't be carrying over to Beckett's next start.

Red Sox bullpen takes a blow: Smith to undergo Tommy John surgery

bullpene1463957324143_3450k_1280x720_690675267713.jpg

Red Sox bullpen takes a blow: Smith to undergo Tommy John surgery

The Boston Red Sox' worst fears with Carson Smith have been realized: The reliever needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the rest of the season.

The Sox announced this morning that Smith will undergo the procedure today in New York.

Smith injured his elbow during spring training and was able to pitch in only three regular-season games after being activated on May 3. His loss will probably step up the team's efforts to acquire more bullpen help, as Smith was expected to reduce the workload on Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara as set-ups for closer Craig Kimbrel. In the short term, Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree will probably help in that role.

Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

red_sox_porcello_buccholz_kelly_052316.jpg

Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

BOSTON -- Avoiding the big inning isn’t just a major concern for Red Sox pitching, it is for all pitchers, at any level.

They can be used as benchmarks for a pitcher’s worth, given one’s ability to minimize the damage, and are in general big momentum shifters.

In each game of the Cleveland series Boston’s starting pitchers were presented with an inning that had potential on running awry.

And each handled it differently.

Joe Kelly took care of business. Rick Porcello minimized the damage and moved on. And, in typical fashion, Clay Buchholz didn’t do well -- even though he managed to log a quality start.

Kelly’s big inning came in his 30-pitch fifth inning, where he lost his perfect game bid -- and gave him no chance at completing the game -- with three walks.

But despite a lapse in control and pressure mounting with runners in scoring position, he held down the fort.

He was able to stay in them moment and work through his worst inning unscathed.

“[I] just got a little bit out of my mechanics and tempo from the stretch,” Kelly said on his fifth inning struggles following Saturday’s 9-1 win. “The pitches still felt good. The life on the fastball felt good [and] the breaking stuff felt sharp. It was just a matter not getting that timing down with my mechanics and just being a little bit to late on getting my arm extended.”

The following day Porcello took the mound and was off once again. John Farrell credited it to a lack of sink on Porcello’s go-to pitch, which is definitely a problem if that’s the case.

But there’s a lot to be said about a pitcher who doesn’t have his best pitch, yet still goes out and pitches a good game (even if it doesn’t get marked as a quality start).

And there’s even more value in the fact that on a bad day, Porcello can still get out of a jam.

“I was overthrowing and out of my game a little bit,” Porcello said on his rough second inning in Sunday’s 5-2 win. “In the third inning I just tried to get the ball down and get some quick outs.”

He also explained that he tries to simplify his approach in starts when he doesn’t have everything working.

“[You] just regroup mentally and battle through it,” Porcello said. “[I was] just trying to keep the balls in the ballpark and let the defense make the plays behind you like they did today.”

Kelly and Porcello set a positive tone to end the series with the Indians after Buchholz had proven that even the Quality Start statistic is misleading at times.

“The one pitch to [Jason] Kipnis is the difference in this one tonight,” John Farrell said following Buchholz’s start Friday. “What we’ve seen is when it’ been a home run, it’s probably been a walk that’s mixed in . . .The home runs are going to happen I think we all look at the base runners leading up to where he puts himself into a little bit of a corner where you don’t have much margin for error with men on base.

“And then there’s been a fastball that’s leaked back to the middle. And that was the case again tonight. He’s trying to crowd Kipnis and to keep the ball in on him and it ends up on the inner half. To me I don’t know if it’s focus, it’s a manner of falling behind in the count and the walks are factoring. We’re working to get him over that hump.”

The “one pitch” being the issue for Buchholz got him a pass for a few starts -- not to belittle the issue, it still is one -- but putting runners on in excess is the righty’s big problem.

He’s clearly still not comfortable throwing from the stretch (never mind bring the game to a screeching halt) and that needs to change. Fact is pitchers throw out of the stretch more often than not.

And going back to the “one pitch” being the problem. It seems more often than not that it’s Buchholz’s “front-door” two-seamer that is supposed to start at a lefty’s hip and scrape the inner edge of the plate.

But once again it wound up catching too much plate, even more barrel and parking itself in the outfield bleachers.

The question beckons, “When will he stop using that pitch so frequently?” It is absolutely a valuable weapon, but if Buchholz has to see that the risk-reward isn’t in his favor.

Regardless, Buchholz needs to take a page out of Kelly and Porcello’s book. Simplify to minimize the damage.

He might even get a standing ovation like Kelly and Porcello when they got pulled.