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

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Chris Sale brings with him to Boston some attitude. He also brings a measure of defiance and, perhaps, a little bit of crazy.

All of which the Red Sox starting staff just may need. And if Sale pitches as he has for much of the past five years, he'll probably be celebrated for it.

I still wonder how it will all play here, especially if he underachieves.

What would we do to him locally if he refused to pitch because he didn't like a certain kind of uniform variation the team was going with? What would we say if he not only refused to pitch, but took a knife to his teammates' uniforms and the team had to scrap the promotion? Sale did exactly that in Chicago last year, after which he threw his manager under the bus for not standing by his players and attacked the team for putting business ahead of winning.

All because he didn't want to wear an untucked jersey?

"(The White Sox throwback uniforms) are uncomfortable and unorthodox,'' said Sale at the time. "I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it.''

Wearing a throwback jersey would alter his mechanics? Was that a joke? It's hard to imagine he would get away with that in Boston.

Ditto for his support of Adam LaRoche and his involvement of that goofy story last March.
LaRoche, you'll remember, retired when the White Sox had the nerve to tell him that his 14-year-old son could not spend as much time around the team as he had grown accustomed to. Sale responded by pitching a fit.

“We got bald-face lied to by someone we’re supposed to be able to trust,'' said Sale of team president Kenny Williams. ``You can’t come tell the players it was the coaches and then tell the coaches it was the players, and then come in and say something completely different. If we’re all here to win a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

On what planet does allowing a 14-year-old kid in a clubhouse have anything to do with winning a title? In what universe does a throwback jersey have anything to do with mechanics? If David Price had said things that stupid last year, he'd still be hearing about it. And it won't be any different for Sale.

Thankfully, Sale's defiance and feistiness extends to the mound. Sale isn't afraid to pitch inside and protect his teammates, leading the American League in hit batsmen each of the last two years. He doesn't back down and loves a fight. And while that makes him sound a little goofy off the field, it should play well on it.

In the meantime, the Sox better hope he likes those red alternate jerseys they wear on Fridays.

E-mail Felger at Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast appears daily on CSN.

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
Now, he can finally move forward.
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”