Notes: Beckett turns it around in final start


Notes: Beckett turns it around in final start

By SeanMcAdam

HOUSTON -- Strictly in terms of results, this was hardly the best spring for Josh Beckett.

In five starts before Wednesday night, Beckett had compiled a 6.64 ERA, hardly the kind of performance to make people think about his nightmarish 2010 season.

But in his last start before the regular season, Beckett limited the Houston Astros to one hit over five scoreless innings while walking none and striking out three in the Red Sox 10-0 thumping of Houston.

"We talk all spring training about how numbers don't mean anything,'' said Terry Francona, "and they don't. Then when he comes out tonight in a big-league stadium and his fastball has that kind of life, boy, that's fun to watch. He really looked sharp tonight.''

In three of the five innings, Beckett retired the side in order. In the other two, he allowed just one baserunner.

"I felt good,'' said Beckett. "I had a good changeup and some well-located fastballs when I needed to . . . It's definitely nice to have some confidence going into your next start, but the big thing is that the mechanical things that we worked on at the beginning of the spring are starting to come together at the right time.''

For the final exhibition game of the season, the Red Sox rolled out a lineup which looks suspiciously like the one which might be used Friday afternoon in Arlington for the season opener.

And still, Francona refused to tip his hand.

"I'll give it you Thursday, OK?'' said Francona before the Sox took on the Astros. "I've actually talk to everybody involved and I think I know what I'm going to do. But we'll wait until Thursday.''

The main complication is the presence of lefty C.J. Wilson, who is starting for the Texas Rangers. Ordinarily, Francona might want to sit outfielder J.D. Drew and perhaps even DH David Ortiz after their struggles against lefties last season.

But because it is Opening Day, Francona is probably leaning toward having both in the lineup.

The other potential adjustment could be dropping Jacoby Ellsbury to ninth and installing Marco Scutaro as the leadoff man against Wilson. But Ellsbury has had such a strong spring, that he's likely to remain at the top.

Minor-league catcher Dan Butler, brought along as an extra, got into the game late and cranked a two-run homer to left in the ninth inning off Gustavo Chacin.

That would have been a thrill any time, but it was even more so since Butler's parents and grandparents drove from northern Arizona -- about 18 hours away -- to see him play.

"As I was running around the bases, I didn't know what to do,'' said a still-smiling Butler. "When I got to the plate and saw Jason Varitek, who scored ahead of him smiling, it sunk in. It was a good feeling.''

The ball carried far over the left-field fence, estimated at more than 400 feet.

"I saw it bounce but I didn't look at it after,'' he said. "I didn't want to be that guy.''

"You had a team full of veterans who were mobbing him in the dugout,'' said Francona. "Everybody knew his family was here. That was really fun. To me, that was probably the topper of the night. For one night, regardless of what happens, that was a pretty fun night for him and his family.''

Carl Crawford, a native of Houston, left about 70 tickets for Wednesday night's game.

Crawford grew up rooting for the Astros and second baseman Craig Biggio, and the NFL's Oilers and quarterback Warren Moon.

"I played here early on, in '02, or '03,'' said Crawford, "and I played in the All-Star game here in '04 and we Tampa Bay were here last year. I've been here a few times and I enjoy it every time we come.

"I kind of like coming back home. I get to relax a little bit. I have a lot of family and friends here and we have fun. It takes your mind off the game a little bit, so I have a good time here.''

The Red Sox have nine more days to figure out what to do with catcher Mark Wagner, who was designated for assignment Tuesday to make room for Mike McKenry, obtained in a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies.

Ideally, the Sox will find a deal for Wagner and get something in return for him. Otherwise, he'll have to pass through waivers to get assigned back to the minors and could get claimed.

The Sox were hoping to see some defensive improvement from Wagner this spring, but were disappointed by his lack of progress behind the plate. Without a more experienced catcher at Pawtucket to summon in the event of an injury to either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Jason Varitek, they acquired McKenry.

McKenry is regarded as a defensive upgrade, capable of filling in as the backup in the big leagues if necessary.

It was here, at Minute Maid Park, that an altercation between former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez and traveling secretary Jack McCormick took place. Less than two months later, following other incidents, that Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team deal at the deadline.

Ramirez had asked McCormick for extra tickets to a game here, which McCormick was unsure he could provide. Enraged, Ramriez shoved McCormick to the ground.

Wednesday afternoon, an outine of a body -- much like one would find at a crime scene -- was marked in tape in the players' lounge, where the altercation took place.

Investigators have reason to believe that Francona and Dustin Pedroia were behind the prank, which amused players and staff members.

Roger Clemens was in attendance Wednesday night. Clemens's son, Koby, is an Astros' prospect and was with the team as an extra and got into the game in the late innings as a defensive replacement at first base . . . A number of Red Sox changed uniform numbers Wednesday night: Dennys Reyes switched from No. 44 to No. 59; Marco Scutaro went from No. 16 to No. 10 and Dan Wheeler dropped down from No. 36 to No. 35. Also, bench coach DeMarlo Hale changed to No. 22 from No. 35 and third base coach Tim Bogar changed to No. 17 from No. 10 . . . Daisuke Matsuzaka will throw a four-inning simulated game Thursday morning as part of the team's workout prior to traveling to Arlington.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam