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

Pedroia leads Red Sox to 11th win in a row, 3-2 over Rays in 10

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Pedroia leads Red Sox to 11th win in a row, 3-2 over Rays in 10

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Dustin Pedroia used nifty baserunning to score from first base on David Ortiz's double in the 10th inning and the AL East-leading Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 on Sunday for their 11th consecutive win.

Pedroia singled off Eddie Gamboa (0-1) to start the inning. The relay throw on Ortiz's hit to right center beat Pedroia to plate but he avoided Luke Maile's first tag. Pedroia's momentum carried him past the plate and when he went back to touch it, Maile was charged with an error when the ball dropped out his glove on another tag try.

Pedroia hit a solo homer and Mookie Betts extended his hitting streak to 11 games with an RBI single for the Red Sox, who secured at least an AL wild-card spot Saturday night. Boston's magic number to clinch the division title dropped to two.

Joe Kelly (4-0) went 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the win.

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out a career-high 13 in 5 1/3 innings. The left-hander and Heath Hembree combined to strikeout 11 consecutive batters to establish a major league-record. The New York Mets held the previous mark when Tom Seaver struck out 10 in a row against San Diego on Apr. 22, 1970.

Boston also set a club record by striking out 21 through nine. Kelly added two more in the 10th.

There was a moment of silence before the game for Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez, who was killed in a boating accident early Sunday. Fernandez played high school baseball in nearby Tampa, Florida after defecting from Cuba.

The Rays planned to honor Ortiz before his final game at Tropicana Field but canceled the ceremony at Ortiz's request after Fernandez's death. He had three hits in five at-bats and moved past Frank Thomas for 107th place on the career list with 2,469 hits.

Ortiz has 35 homers and 90 RBIs at Tropicana Field, which is the most of any visiting player. Alex Rodriguez is next with 30 homers and 73 RBIs.

HONORING BIG PAPI

Rays 3B Evan Longoria and RHP Chris Archer informally presented Ortiz with an oil painting of his 500th home run, which he hit at Tropicana Field last season. Ortiz was also given 34 special handmade Diamond Crown Maximus cigars and $5,000 donations in his name to the Miracle League of St. Petersburg, Florida and the University of South Florida Latino scholarship program.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Ortiz will play at Yankee Stadium for the final time during a three-game series against New York that starts Tuesday night. "Playing baseball in New York is something that is very special," Ortiz said. LHP David Price (17-8) will start for the Red Sox Tuesday night.

Rays: LHP Drew Smyly (7-11) will face White Sox RHP James Shields (3-11) Monday night in the first of four games in Chicago.

© 2016 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.

 

Ortiz, Red Sox express shock, sadness over Fernandez's death

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Ortiz, Red Sox express shock, sadness over Fernandez's death

Like the rest of the baseball world, the Red Sox expressed shock and sadness over the tragic death of Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who was killed in a boating accident in Miami. 

David Ortiz tweeted his thoughts before the game Sunday in St. Petersburg, where the Red Sox played the Tampa Bay Rays.

There was a moment of silence for Fernandez - who attended high school in the Tampa area after defecting from Cuba at 15 - before the game at Tropicana Field, and before all major league games on Sunday. 

There was to be on-field ceremony for Ortiz before his last game at the Trop, part of his retirement farewell tour, but it was canceled at Ortiz's request. A video tribute to Ortiz was shown during the game and the Rays gave Ortiz his retirement gifts privately.

Ortiz wiped away tears during the moment of silence. He wrote Fernandez's intitals and his uniform number 16 on his cap.

Fernandez had joked about how he wanted to give up a home run to Ortiz when he faced him as an N.L. pitcher in the All-Star Game this past July. 

"I told him yesterday that I am going to throw him three fastballs down the middle. I want to watch him hit a home run," Fernandez had said. 

Ortiz ended up walking against Fernandez, prompting this response from Big Papi:

First baseman Hanley Ramirez, who played for the Marlins, as well as other Red Sox players, also tweeted their reactions after hearing the news of Fernandez's death Sunday morning.