Beckett has the answers for struggling Red Sox

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Beckett has the answers for struggling Red Sox

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Josh Beckett delivered exactly what the Red Sox needed.

With the team mired in its worst start in decades -- and the starting pitching bearing a large portion of the responsibility for that -- Beckett delivered a gem, shutting down the Yankees as the Sox got their second win of the season, 4-0.

Right from the very beginning he was commanding all his pitches, and . . . when he opens up the plate with that two-seamer to the lefties, it seems like it opens up the entire plate, manager Terry Francona said. Commanded his breaking ball, threw it in all counts. He established to where they couldnt sit on a pitch because he was changing speeds, going back and forth. Think he ended up with one walk. Really, really good.

Beckett (1-1, 2.08 ERA) went eight innings, allowing just two hits and a walk, with 10 strikeouts. It was his best performance in a very long time.

The erstwhile ace said he felt some sense of responsibility to deliver.

I think we all do that, he said. When our day comes to pitch, were not thinking about what happened yesterday or two days ago or the future. I think everybodys trying to do their thing and we havent been getting a lot of breaks.

Beckett set the tone with his first batter, striking out Brett Gardner looking at a curveball. After Derek Jeter grounded out to Marco Scutaro at shortstop, Beckett struck out Mark Teixeira looking at a fastball. He struck out six of the nine batters in the Yankees lineup.

Five of his strikeouts came on curveballs.

Obviously, the curveball gives me another weapon, he said. I felt like I kind of had both of them going a little bit because early in the game I threw some early in the count to get back in or get ahead or establish it or whatever, and I think that set it up for later.

For Francona, though, Becketts two-seam fastball was the key pitch.

When hes able to establish that two-seamer to lefties, thats where I always feel like the plate opens up, Francona said. And he did it early in the game and its a good feeling. Ive seen him enough now to where, to me, thats where he really is, hes okay.

On this night, Beckett was more than okay. He faced more than the minimum in just two innings. In the third, Jorge Posada struck out, swinging at a curveball, Eric Chavez singled, and Beckett hit Russell Martin with a pitch. But Beckett got Gardner to end the inning on a 4-6-3 double play.

In the fourth, he gave up a one-out walk to Teixeira and a single to Robinson Cano before striking out Curtis Granderson swinging at a fastball, and getting Nick Swisher to ground out to Dustin Pedroia at second.

Beckett retired the final 14 batters he faced. His offense gave him a 1-0 lead in the fourth, but it wasnt until Marco Scutaros bases-loaded double in the seventh scored David Ortiz (walk) and J.D. Drew (walk), to give Beckett some breathing room.

They definitely have a good lineup, Beckett said. The strikeouts, theyre great, but the biggest pitch I had to make was the double play ball that got Gardner out. If he hits that anywhere else, its so hard to turn a double play.

Beckett had at least one strikeout in each of his innings. It was his 11th career 10-plus strikeout performance, but first since July 27, 2009, against Oakland.

Beckett gave little indication that this type of sterling performance was about to be delivered. Entering the game he had a career 6.26 ERA against the Yankees. In his last outing, April 5 in Cleveland, he took the loss giving up three runs on five hits and four walks, needing 106 pitches to get through five innings.

I dont know, Beckett said. You just take it day by day. You're not waiting on the magic bullet. Theres no magic bullet. You just go out there and you deal with what youve got that day.

We still got a long way to go. I feel good about my outing, yes. I went eight innings, saved the bullpen a little bit. We still got a long way to go.

Francona, though, saw some signs.

I think his stuff has been fine, he said. I think its been, a couple of the games at the end of spring training he wasnt throwing his breaking ball for strikes. He was leaving the two-seamer over the middle of the plate. Stuffs really the same, velocity, all that stuff. Just his fastball at times, it creeped up above the knees. Hes always been keeping his changeup down all spring going into this start. But when hes establishing the fastball and then hes flipping the curveball in for strikes, its a nice combination.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Twins

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Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Twins

Three things we learned from the Boston Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins . . .

1) David Price isn’t having fun

Boston’s $217 million-dollar arm had another rough outing -- this time against a team that already has 60 losses.

Those are the team’s he’s supposed to dominate.

“It’s been terrible,” Price said on how his season has gone following the loss. “Just awful.”

Price’s mistakes have often been credited to mechanical mishaps this year. Farrell mentioned that following his start in New York, Price spent time working on getting more of a downhill trajectory on his pitches.

But Price doesn’t think his issue is physical.

So it must be mental -- but he doesn’t feel that’s the case either.

“Honestly I don’t think it’s either one of those,” Price said when asked which he thought was a factor. “It’s me going out there and making pitches. “

But when it comes down to the barebones, pitching -- much like anything else -- is a physical and mental act.

So when he says it’s neither, that’s almost impossible. It could be both, but it has to be one.

His mind could be racing out on the mound from a manifestation of the issues he’s had throughout the season.

Or it could just be that his fastball isn’t changing planes consistently, like Farrell mentioned.

Both could be possible too, but it takes a certain type of physical approach and mental approach to pitch -- and Price needs to figure out which one is the issue, or how to address both. 

2) Sandy Leon might be coming back to Earth

Over his last five games, Boston’s new leading catcher is hitting .176 (3-for-17), dropping his average to .395.

A couple things have to be understood. His average is still impressive. In the five games prior to this dry spell, Leon went 7-for-19 (.368) But -- much like Jackie Bradley Jr. -- Leon hasn’t been known for his offensive output throughout his career. So dry spells are always tests of how he can respond to adversity and make necessary adjustments quickly.

Furthermore, if he’s not so much falling into a funk as opposed to becoming the real Sandy Leon -- what is Boston getting?

Is his run going to be remembered as an exciting run that lasted much longer than anyone expected? Or if he going to show he’s a legitimate hitter that can hit at least -.260 to .280 with a little pop from the bottom of the line-up?

What’s more, if he turns back into the Sandy Leon he’s been throughout his career, the Red Sox will have an interesting dilemma on how to handle the catching situation once again.

3) Heath Hembree has lost the momentum he gained after being called up.

Following Saturday’s contest, the right-hander was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after an outing where he went 1/3 of an inning, giving up a run on three hits -- and allowing some inherited runners to score.

Hembree at one point was the savior of the bullpen, stretching his arm out over three innings at a time to bail out the scuffling Red Sox starting rotation that abused it’s bullpen.

His ERA is still only 2.41 -- and this has been the most he’s ever pitched that big league level -- but the Red Sox have seen a change in him since the All-Star break.

Which makes sense, given that hitters have seven hits and two walks against him in his 1.1 innings of work -- spanning four games since the break.

“He’s not confident pitcher right now,” John Farrell said about Hembree before announcing his demotion. “As good as Heath has been for the vast majority of this year -- and really in the whole first half -- the four times out since the break have been the other side of that.”

Joe Kelly will be the pitcher to replace Hembree and Farrell hopes to be able to stretch him out over multiple innings at a time, as well.

Quotes, notes and stars: Price says season has been "terrible"

Quotes, notes and stars: Price says season has been "terrible"

Quotes, notes and stars from the Boston Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins:

QUOTES

* “It’s been terrible . . . Just awful.” Price on how his season has gone.

* “Tough night from the mound -- obviously.” John Farrell on Red Sox pitching in the loss.

* “Honestly I don’t think it’s either one of those. It’s me going out there and making pitches. It’s what I’ve done for a long time now -- and I haven’t done this year. That’s why this year’s been the way it has been.” Price said when he was asked if he felt his problems boiled down to physical or mental issues.

* “Given that [we] had to stay away from [Matt] Barnes and [Junichi] Tazawa today, [Clay Buchholz] was a guy that was going to be needed to hopefully multiple inning to bridge us to where were able to match up a little bit more in the eighth inning to get to Ziegler. Unfortunately it didn’t happen.” Farrell said on why he turned to Buchholz -- not Barnes – despite having the lead.

* “It was crazy. When the fly ball [went] into the sky it turned into like a twister of some sort and you didn’t know where the ball was going to fall. I’ve never seen anything like that before.” Michael Martinez on dealing with the howling wind in right field.

* “It wasn’t much wind. I went and looked at it, definitely should have made the play. Just running at it full speed -- it was one of those things I didn’t know how close I was getting to the wall so I went into a slide. And it was an early slide, so it kind of threw me off a little bit . . . Just thought I was closer to the wall than I really was.” Brock Holt on the fly ball he misplayed.

NOTES

* Jackie Bradley Jr. knocked in two runs, becoming the fourth Red Sox hitter to reach the 60 RBI mark this season -- the most in the MLB. Bradley also had a double, marking is 46th extra-base hit of the season -- with 99 hits overall.

* Dustin Pedroia reached base for the 26th consecutive game with his double in the second inning. He has a .402 OBP during this stretch and a .311 average.

* The Red Sox have lost consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month (6/26-27). Both losses were comeback victories for Minnesota. Boston’s record drops to 3-3 against the 37-60 Twins this season.

STARS

1) Eddie Rosario

Rosario finished 4-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored, bumping his average from .244 to .262.

2) David Ortiz

Ortiz finished 3-for-3 with a walk, double, two RBI and two runs scored -- giving Boston just about as much offense as anyone can hope for.

3) Miguel Sano

The burly Twins third baseman finished 3-for-5 with a long ball, two runs scored, a walk and an RBI in Minnesota’s win.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter: @ngfriar