McAdam: Should 'Tek get personal with Beckett?

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McAdam: Should 'Tek get personal with Beckett?

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Morning-after musings . . .

It's hard not to find a link between Josh Beckett's masterpiece Sunday night and the presence of Jason Varitek behind the plate.

Surely, there were other factors beyond Jarrod Saltalamcchia in Beckett's first unsuccessful start in Cleveland, not the least of which was the weather.

But denying that Varitek impacted Beckett's superb outing Sunday night is folly. One person in the Red Sox clubhouse Sunday night theorized that Saltalamacchia might well have called the exact same game as Varitek did, made all the same decisions -- and the results might not have been the same.

There's an undenible comfort factor for Beckett in Varitek, which, given their history, is something of an irony.

When Beckett arrived in Boston in 2006, he spent his first season almost defiantly ignoring Varitek's wishes. Beckett had spent his first few years in the National League as a Texas gunslinger on the mound, challenging hitters to chase his 96 mph fastball up in the strike zone. When he transitioned to the American League -- and the American League East, in particular -- that strategy became a losing proposition. And still, Beckett insisted on approaching hitters that way, compiling an ERA of 5.01 while giving up 36 homers.

It wasn't until 2007, his best season from start to finish, when Beckett began trusting Varitek and following the captain's game plan.

Ever since, Beckett's performance has been markedly better with Varitek as his catcher.

That creates something of a problem for Terry Francona, who had hoped to avoid partnering a starter with a "personal catcher." Doing so limits the manager's flexibility and options.

Francona would prefer to catch Varitek when it makes the most sense for Saltalamacchia -- in a day game after a night game, for instance, to give Saltalamacchia the necessary rest. And because Varitek has hit far better from the right side in recent seasons, it makes sense to try to otherwise line up Varitek's starts against opposing lefties.

Manuevering around Beckett's starts can get in the way of either of those plans and could increase Varitek's workload while reducing Saltalamacchia's playing time.

That's a direction in which the Red Sox would rather not travel. First, the Sox pursued Saltalamacchia for several seasons and now that he's here, they want to give him every opportunity to succeed. Moreover, there are questions about how well Varitek will hold up under more games. Though he keeps himself in superb condition, catching is a demanding, punishing position and there are limits to Varitek as he nears his 39th birthday.

At the same time, it's impossible to ignore the impact Varitek has on Beckett. After five seasons, a trust has developed, to say nothing of sheer familiarity. Beckett seems to throw pitches with more conviction when Varitek is behind the plate.

Understand this: Beckett has never requested that Varitek be made his personal catcher. He makes no demands and expects no special treatment. When asked, he would tell Francona -- or anyone else, for that matter -- that who catches him should be of little concern.

A diva he's not.

But if Beckett is going to have a bounceback season, if he's to truly be the front-line starter that he was in 2007 and parts of 2009, then the Sox need to do everything in their power to help him.

For now, that includes pairing him with a catcher with whom he feels the most comfortable -- and damn the consequences.

The Red Sox have won just twice in their first nine games. Both times, the win resulted from one aspect of their game overcoming the shortcoming of an another.

On Friday, the Red Sox used their offense to overcome a poor start by John Lackey. Sunday, Beckett had to shut the Yankees out because his teammates could provide him with just one run through the first six innings.

While such inconsistency is common for slumpng teams -- when they hit, they don't pitch; and when they pitch, they don't hit -- it's hardly a formula for long-term success.

(The Red Sox can take some comfort from the fact that the Yankees, though owners of a better record, have demonstrated some of the same traits, though in their case, the offense has done more to make up for some shaky starting pitching.)

"Today," said unlikely offensive hero Marco Scutaro Sunday night, "we kind of put everything together, so that was nice."

Once the Sox put both elements of their game together, they should be fine. The offense has enormous and obvious potential but slow starts by Jacoby Ellsbury (benched Sunday night), Carl Crawford (hitless Sunday, but having far better at-bats) and Kevin Youkilis have limited the lineup.

The team's struggles with men in scoring position grew to ridiculous lengths Sunday, the victory notwithstanding.

They stranded 16 hitters Sunday night, including nine in scoring position, while going a pitiful 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Through nine games, they're hitting a putrid .197 (14-for-71) with RISP. Only Tampa (.148) has been worse.

Starting Monday, when the Tampa Bay Rays come to town, the Sox might have the perfect opportunity to get both their pitching and their attack going.

The Rays are the only team with a worse record in the American League than the Sox and their frustration boiled over Sunday in Chicago when maanger Joe Maddon got run in a heated exchange with umpires.

Beyond Manny Ramirez's quick exit, stage left, last Friday, the Rays are without their best hitter in Evan Longoria, who is on the disabled list with an oblique pull.

There hasn't been time for Maddon to reconstruct his bullpen, so decimated by free agent defections and if the Sox can get to the Tampa starters early, their path for a breakout offensive series could be before them.

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

Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays

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Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays

Three things we learned from the Boston Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays…

1) Toronto’s offense can never be taken lightly.

Coming into the series, the Blue Jays had scored 197 runs, putting them in the middle of the pack among all Major League teams and averaging four runs per game. In the two games against Boston, they’ve scored 17 runs.

So an offense that had appeared to be dormant has been woken up thanks to some subpar Red Sox pitching.

It seems like these two teams are very similar and could be in opposite positions just as easily. The Blue Jays are only three behind in the win column (five in the loss), so Boston needs to win David Price’s Sunday start to widen the gap and cut their three-game skid.

2) Craig Kimbrel is only effective for so long.

Boston’s closer wasn’t giving excuses following Saturday’s game -- and this isn’t one either.

Saturday’s 39-pitch performance wasn’t just his season-high, but his career high in pitches.

This not only resulted in a drop in Kimbrel’s velocity, but it exposed flaws in the Red Sox’ pen. Kimbrel is truly a one-inning guy, so if Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara can’t get him the ball, he’s useless.

And it seems like Uehara won’t be used on back-to-back days frequently in the near future, so Boston won’t be able to use Tazawa in a seventh inning role with much consistency.

Somewhere along the way Dave Dombrowski will need to find another reliever for the back-end of the bullpen.

3) Offense can only take a team so far.

Both teams had big offensive days, in large part because pitchers from both sides made a lot of mistakes -- but they still took advantage of them.

Had the Red Sox been the home team in this contest, there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t have won -- just based on the progression of the game and ignoring any statistical splits.

If the Red Sox are serious about making the postseason, they need pitching to pick up the slack once in a while. Because when they hit the road late in the year, games like will slip away when quality pitching is lacking.

Quotes, notes and stars: 'Unfortunate situation at a key moment'

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Quotes, notes and stars: 'Unfortunate situation at a key moment'

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays:
 
QUOTES
*“We’ve seen Hanley [Ramirez] catch that ball multiple times...An unfortunate situation at a key moment.” John Farrell said of the final play of the game.
 
*As soon as I let it go I thought he was out...I feel like that game kind of slipped away from us.” -Travis Shaw said of his throw in the final play of the game.
 
*“Everybody was so excited on the bench. We’d lost the lead and to have him come through in that situation . . . It was huge.” -Hanley Ramirez on David Ortiz’s go-ahead homerun in the ninth inning.
 
*“We’re a strike away on a number of occasions . . . you watch the attack plan all day long right-handers with curveballs were having success against [Justin] Smoak.” -Farrell said of the bullpen’s performance and Smoak’s ninth inning hit off Craig Kimbrel.
 
*“If he makes an accurate throw he’s out.” -Farrell on Christian Vazquez’s errant throw in the ninth inning.
 
*“In some key spots we gave an extra 90 feet when otherwise we have not of late.” -Farrell said about Boston’s inability to execute late in the game.

NOTES
*Xander Bogaerts has hit safely in his last 21 games, extending his streak with a home run to lead off the fourth inning. He’s hitting .402 with five home runs during the streak. Bogaerts logged his ninth three-hit game of 2016.
 
* Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to five games with his first-inning double. Pedroia has also hit safely in his past 22 games against Toronto. He’s hitting .444 during the short streak.
 
*David Ortiz extended his own hitting streak to six games with a double in the fourth. He's hitting .520 over that span.
 
* Russell Martin logged his fifth multi-hit game of the season -- and first three-hit game -- smacking a double and a home run. Martin entered the game batting .179 with three extra-base hits.
 
 
STARS
1) Russell Martin

Not only did he score the winning run, but he also tied the score in the ninth and launched a home run earlier in the game.
 
2) Xander Bogaerts
Another threre-hit performance, extending his hitting streak to 21 games, Bogaerts keeps creating headaches for opposing pitchers.
 
3) Rick Porcello
On a day where pitchers from both side scuffled, Porcello’s 6 2/3-inning effort gave Boston more than enough of a chance to win. 

First impressions: Big trouble for Red Sox bullpen

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First impressions: Big trouble for Red Sox bullpen

First impressions of the Red Sox' 10-9 loss in Toronto:
 
Rick Porcello was back in top form.

Despite the matchup at the Rogers Center being less than favorable for Porcello, and the righty not at his best of late, he held a streaking, dangerous offense at bay for 6 2/3 innings (four runs, seven hits) before the bullpen coughed up two leads. 

While Porcello hasn’t performed poorly of late, there’s no question he hasn’t been at his best -- so it’s good to see him have a consistent feel for his pitches.

The bullpen might be in trouble Sunday.

With Junichi Tazawa struggling, Craig Kimbrel throwing a season high 39 pitches and Matt Barnes pitching in both games this series, the bullpen won’t be at it’s best for the final game in Toronto. So, if there were ever a time for David Price to throw like a true ace, Sunday would be it.

Tommy Layne proves again that he’s not trustworthy.

With a four-run lead, and only needing to get two batters out, Layne couldn't get an out in the eighth, allowing two runs on two hits and starting something not even Kimbrel (who gave up leads in the eighth and ninth after being called on for a five-out save) could stop. The lefty specialist may have entered the game with an ERA below 3.00, but his results are inconsistent.
 
Umpire Mike DiMuro’s injury changed the tone of the game.

The home plate umpire took a hard foul ball off the center of the mask, delaying the game for several minutes and forcing Brian Gorman to call the game behind the plate.

And with that came an inconsistent strike zone. Both sides were frustrated by his inconsistency with his zone. Porcello had two pitches stopped due to late timeout calls. Marcus Stroman was almost allowed to quick pitch Hanley Ramirez twice in the same at-bat.

The crew got it right removing DiMuro from the game, but Gorman was bad in relief.
 
David Ortiz getting doubled up in the fourth inning can’t happen.

Darwin Barney showed some range, getting to Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s soft line drive up the middle, flipping the ball to second quickly after to get Ortiz. This comes a night after Hanley Ramirez got double up off a screaming line drive.

There’s a difference between the two though. Ramirez had no time to react. Ortiz had all the time in the world. Even though Papi’s speed hasn’t become enhanced in his old age -- unlike his power -- that was a rally-killing play he could’ve prevented.
 
Don’t sleep on Dustin Pedroia.

Between Ortiz’s farewell tour and the youth rising, Dustin Pedroia continues to perform well under the radar.

He went 2-for-4, lacing two doubles off Toronto’s ace, Marcus Stroman. Pedroia is hitting .309. He’s not the only player being overlooked, but he’s definitely received the least amount of attention in Boston’s power-packed lineup.