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Beckett can't locate trouble


Beckett can't locate trouble
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Josh Beckett reaffirmed himself as the best pitcher the Red Sox can boast only 24 days ago. He throttled the Rays on Opening Day, yielding one run in seven innings. His fastball zipped by bats, and his curveball buckled knees. He allowed no hits from the windup. He was morphing back to the 2007 version of himself, the power-pitching ace who nearly won the Cy Young.

Last night at Tropicana Field, that optimism continued a rapid and sudden fade as indignities unthinkable three weeks ago piled up. Beckett gave up a home run to a 30-year-old rookie catcher with 29 career plate appearances and, prior to depositing the letter-high sinker Beckett offered into the left-field seats, no home runs. His opposite allowed nine fewer hits in three more innings. Beckett walked off the mound with two outs in the fifth inning, striding away from a scoreboard high above center field that looked like this:

BECKETT

ERA 7.22

In four starts since his Opening Day masterpiece, Beckett is 1-2 with a 9.14 ERA. His last two starts have yielded 15 runs, 20 hits, and 7 walks in 9 2/3 innings. Beckett says he feels ``real good'' physically, and ``that's part of the frustration.''

Beckett's ugliest and shortest outing of the season - 7 runs, 10 hits, and 3 walks in 4 2/3 innings - occurred on a night when ``he had dominating-type stuff,'' pitching coach John Farrell said. Of the 14 outs he recorded, eight came by strikeout. The gulf between the quality of his pitches and his results, created by a lack of command, left Beckett searching for answers.

``I just gave up seven [expletive] runs in five innings,'' Beckett said in a nearly empty visitors' clubhouse. ``That's not close to me. Is that close to you? Yeah, it's frustrating. It's a lot of things. I just got to make adjustments. Obviously, I didn't do that between my last two starts.''

Common threads in Beckett's struggles have been difficult to pinpoint. After his last start, Farrell suggested Beckett's delivery from the stretch contained inconsistencies. Both pitcher and coach agreed that was an issue last night.

Beckett, like Farrell, felt his pitches were strong last night. ``Everything was up in the zone, though,'' Beckett said.

And why?

``I don't know,'' Beckett said.

In all of his subpar starts, Beckett has shown a proclivity for one bad inning unraveling his start. Against Baltimore, all four runs Beckett allowed came in the fourth inning. Last night, Beckett retired six of the first seven batters, striking out three. In the third inning, the Rays bunched a pair of infield hits and a walk.

Evan Longoria came to the plate, and Beckett worked himself to a 2-and-0 count. He needed to throw a fastball, and he tried to throw it in the spot the Sox deemed Longoria most vulnerable. Longoria smacked a double to right-center, clearing the bases. Two batters later, Pat Burrell smashed an opposite-field single to score Longoria.

In one inning, Beckett went from unhittable and engaged in a pitching duel with Matt Garza to down, 4-0. Misfortune seemed to play a role. Farrell dismissed that.

``I wouldn't say he was a victim of miscues or can't say mis-located pitches,'' Farrell said. ``Certainly, getting behind 2-0 and the walk preceding the 2-0 count kind of set the stage.

``I'm not going to attribute anything to bad luck. Any pitcher that takes the mound, they're involved in it. Their awareness to the game situation and understanding what the game situation is right in front of them. You have to make your own luck. And that's being relentless with an approach that you can control nothing more than the pitch you're executing at the time.''

The third inning provided Beckett's worst moments. Hunter Jones began warming in the bullpen, the second time in as many starts that Jones, a rookie, prepared to take over for Beckett before three innings had elapsed. Beckett needed 43 pitches to endure the third. And with one out in the fourth, catcher Michel Hernandez, on Tampa Bay's roster only because Shawn Riggans is injured, blasted a sinker that Beckett left up 373 feet away for a solo homer.

``His stuff was tremendous,'' manager Terry Francona said. ``He just didn't execute enough pitches. I think there's times when maybe he's trying to be too fine. He's following the glove around, not missing bad, not missing up and in or off the plate. But a lot of pitches were, when he's down in the count - just not fully trusting his stuff.''

Beckett could only watch as Garza dominated his team, delivering the kind of performance the Red Sox believed they could count on from Beckett. The Sox still believe he can be that pitcher. ``He'll be back,'' Francona said. ``He'll be OK.''

``Certainly, he's disappointed,'' Farrell said. ``And we're disappointed in the fact that when you take that kind of stuff to the mound, you expect a little bit different result.''

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 1, 2009

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