Beckett determined to start off right

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Beckett determined to start off right

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

CLEVELAND -- When the Red Sox slotted Josh Beckett fourth in their starting rotation last month, it was with the idea that they could ease him into 2011 without exposing him to a difficult Texas Rangers lineup in his first start.

With the benefit of hindsight, it might not have mattered if the Sox had started Cy Young himself over the weekend in Arlington, where the Rangers bashed Boston pitching for 11 homers and 26 runs.

But the larger point remains: Beckett needs a fresh start after a 2010 season that began poorly -- then got impossibly worse.

The six wins Beckett earned were a career-low since he established himself in the big leagues, and his 5.78 ERA was easily the highest of his career.

A chastened and embarrassed Beckett returned to his native Texas over the winter determined to turn things around. He worked diligently with a trainer, as usual, but focused more on improving his core strength -- the better to avoid nagging back flareups which twice sidelined Beckett last season.

There were other changes, too. With input from new pitching coach Curt Young and others in the organization, Beckett fine-tuned his delivery this spring, seeking a more consistent release point.

And there was more: One person in the organization, watching Beckett throw in the opening of week of spring, spotted Beckett's grip on the baseball as he readied his delivery, meaning he was effectively tipping his pitches to hitters.

Together, the staff worked to streamline Beckett's mechanics, working toward a consistent release point for all his pitches, less movement during his delivery and a better disguise on his grip.

The changes, predictably, took some time. Beckett had two starts against Pittsburgh in one week, both of which featured big innings in which he was unable to work out of trouble.

But in his last two outings, and in particular, last Wednesday night in Houston, Beckett was his old dominant self.

"He never threw the ball like that all of last year,'' marveled one talent evaluator of his start against the Astros.

Even Beckett, notoriously difficult on himself, couldn't hide his satisfaction.

"I was really excited about the last two starts,'' he said, "the way the adjustments started to feel, the adjustments that we had made earlier in the spring. I took those adjustments into the game immediately, but they don't always show up right away. My last two, I really felt like they started clicking.''

Last Wednesday, in fact, looked like Beckett circa 2007, when he was arguably the best right-hander in the American League, first winning 20 games during the season and then all four of his postseason starts, leading the Sox to a title.

His fastball had great life. His changeup, which he threw too hard at times after coming to the American League, offered great deception. Only his curve looked as though it still needed work.

"I got more and more comfortable incorporating the adjustments,'' he said. "It's hard to make adjustments and then not revert back to something else during the game. That's when you know they're starting to feel comfortable, whenever they're the most natural thing you go to.''

Many observers believe Beckett may well hold the key to the 2011 Red Sox rotation.

Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz -- results of the first series notwithstanding -- are established front-of-the-rotation starters and John Lackey, though inconsistent, can usually offer his team innings.

Should Beckett re-discover the form he showed in 2007 and for long stretches of 2009, the rotation could truly be top-notch.

Motivation should not be an issue. Manager Terry Francona noted that Beckett was particularly attentive and focused from the beginning of camp. Not one for analyzing himself much off the field, he has mostly been low-key all spring, preferring to concentrate on work rather than making forecasts about his season.

If the demotion from one-time ace to No. 4 in the rotation -- whatever the reasons -- got to him, he did nothing to show it.

"It is what it is,'' said Beckett. "I've got to go out and pitch well on my day, one way or another, whatever day it is.''

But Francona feels that Beckett is a man on a mission: not because of where he is in the rotation this year, but what he did -- or more accurately, didn't do -- last year.

"I think his pride took a beating last year," Francona said. "I definitely agree with that. I think he feels like he has a lot to prove."

He can start Tuesday night when he makes his first start in Cleveland since Game Five of the 2007 ALCS. That night, with the Red Sox facing elimination, Beckett was brilliant, limiting the Indians to one run over eight innings while striking out 11.

Even with the Sox off to a nightmarish 0-3 start this season, the stakes aren't quite as high.

Then again, for a quietly determined Josh Beckett, maybe they are.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Sale gets 9 Ks, Moreland hits home run as Red Sox beat Twins, 4-1

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Sale gets 9 Ks, Moreland hits home run as Red Sox beat Twins, 4-1

BOSTON - Chris Sale pitched 6 1/3 overpowering innings with nine strikeouts, Mitch Moreland hit a solo homer for the third straight game and the Boston Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1 on Monday in a matchup of two of the AL's top teams.

Dustin Pedroia had two hits and drove in a run and Moreland added a sacrifice for Boston, which kept pace with the New York Yankees atop the East.

Coming off a three-game sweep in Cleveland that had jumped them over the Indians into first in the Central, the Twins' offense was stymied by Sale and three relievers.

Sale (10-3) gave up one run and four hits, increasing his major-league strikeout total to 155. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 21st save.

The 6-foot-6 Sale relied on his usual sharp-breaking slider and fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s to fan eight over the first six innings, getting the initial half dozen with his breaking pitch.

Jose Berrios (7-2) allowed four runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. Chris Gimenez had a solo homer for Minnesota.

Boston jumped ahead 2-0 in the first when Moreland homered into the first row of Green Monster seats after the first run scored on a double-play grounder.

Berrios had given up just two runs in each of his previous four starts, and six of eight since being promoted on May 7.

Gimenez's homer completely left Fenway Park over the Monster.

Red Sox do not need Sonny Gray, and they know it

Red Sox do not need Sonny Gray, and they know it

BOSTON — Sonny Gray is not what the Red Sox need.

As of Monday, the power rankings of their trade targets should go as such: 1. Third baseman 2. Reliever 3. Back-end starter.

When he was addressing the addition of Doug Fister three days ago, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski noted that a premier starter is not what he lacks.

“Unlike maybe some other clubs, I don't believe that we need to add a top-of-the-rotation-type starter,” Dombrowski said. “We have [Chris] Sale. I think David Price continues to make strides to come back. His stuff is good he's just got to get back. [Drew] Pomeranz has thrown well for us. [Eduardo] Rodriguez has thrown well. We know Rick Porcello is a good pitcher.

“So we're not, maybe other clubs are looking for that No. 1, No. 2 type starter. That's not really important for us. I think it's more important to be in a position where we add depth for us, somebody that can help us win major league games if needed.”

Yahoo’s Jeff Passan on Monday reported that the Red Sox “have quietly sent some of their most respected evaluators to his last two starts. This could fall under standard due diligence, but one source familiar with their intentions said the Red Sox are keen for Gray – and when president Dave Dombrowski targets a player, the price for other teams jumps accordingly.” 

Due diligence is indeed all the Red Sox are up to, a baseball source with knowledge of the team’s thinking told CSNNE.com on Monday.

The Red Sox’ trade chips are limited, if they don’t want to drastically diminish their farm system. Gray is very close with David Price, but Gray's 4.45 ERA isn’t inspiring. He has a 3.60 FIP — fielding independent pitching — and has great talent. But again, he doesn’t play the hot corner.

Offense on a whole is a greater need. The Sox entered Monday with the third lowest slugging percentage in the AL. Hanley Ramirez is now battling some left knee pain as well as his shoulder issue, after he took a pitch off the knee Sunday.

It’s warmed up, but the Sox power bats have not also warmed up.

“I wouldn’t hinge this all on just temperature,” manager John Farrell said Monday. “And I don’t know that we use that as an excuse prior. . . Over the last three or four weeks, it’s kind of stagnated a little bit. I think the biggest thing for us as a group is to still maintain a consistent approach at the plate. When we think about getting too much muscle in a swing, eventually the strike zone expands, you don’t get the pitch that you’re looking for. We can’t afford to maybe go away from that approach for the sake of maybe trying to drive the ball with greater consistency.”

Tzu-Wei Lin was starting for the Sox on Monday, yet another in the third-base carousel. Jhonny Peralta and Pablo Sandoval (rehab assignment) are going to alternate time at third base starting Tuesday with Triple-A Pawtucket. 

That’s where they need help.

The bullpen can’t be overlooked either. Carson Smith started a throwing program again Monday, but it’s unclear when he’ll be able to return, or at what effectiveness.