Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Beckett breaking ball baffles Bombers

For Josh Beckett, it all starts with the fastball.

"I'm mixing in some other pitches, but that's definitely a big key -- fastball location," the 6-foot-4 righthander said. "The whole game of baseball is predicated on the fastball, and when you can locate it the way I did today, more times than not, you're going to be pretty successful."

"He's throwing strikes with his fastball, locating his fastball," shortstop Nick Green said. "Anytime he can locate his fastball, it's tough on hitters because he gets ahead in the count and can throw his changeup, cutter and curve."

Beckett threw his fastball with devastating effectiveness in flummoxing the Yankees on Tuesday night. (He allowed just one infield hit in six innings, striking out eight and walking two.) But what really stood out was the way he used his curveball.

In his career, Beckett has thrown his fastball 66.6 percent of the time, his curveball 20.4 percent of the time and his changeup 5.8 percent of the time. So far this season, he's thrown his fastball 64 percent of the time, his curveball 27.2 percent of the time and his changeup 5.8 percent of the time with a cutter mixed in here and there.

In his first outing against the Yankees, 29 of his 116 pitches -- exactly 25 percent -- were curveballs.

On Tuesday, though, he threw curveballs on 31 of his 93 pitches (33.3 percent), including 25 of his first 71 (35.2 percent). In the first inning, nine of his 18 pitches were curveballs; in the fourth inning, it was 11 out of 23 pitches. That's a huge jump from 20 percent or even 27 percent.

"We had a game plan, and we were going to stick to it," Beckett said. "I'm pretty stubborn when we get something like that going, and it ended up working out."

Here's Mark Teixeira's first at-bat in the first inning:
1. Curveball up and away (Ball 1)
2. Curveball up and away (Strike 1)
3. Curveball up and away (Ball 2)
4. Curveball up (Foul, Strike 2)
5. Curveball up and away (Foul)
6. Fastball away (Foul)
7. Curveball away (Ball 3)
8. Cut fastball inside (Ball 4)

Here's Teixeira's second at-bat:
1. Curveball over the middle (Strike 1)
2. Curveball down and in (Ball 1)
3. Cut fastball inside (Ball 2)
4. Changeup down (Strike 2, swinging)
5. Curveball over the middle (Foul)
6. Fastball inside (Ball 3)
7. Changeup outside (Ball 4)

But here's Teixeira's third at-bat:
1. Fastball over the middle (Strike 1)
2. Fastball down (Strike 2, swinging)
3. Fastball up and in (Strike 3)

All told, nine of the 18 pitches he threw to Teixeira were curveballs -- including six of his first seven.

Same went for Alex Rodriguez, who struck out on four straight curveballs in the fourth inning, and Nick Swisher, who saw the following sequence in the fifth:
1. Fastball at the knees (Strike 1)
2. Curveball down and in (Ball 1)
3. Curveball middle-in (Strike 2)
4. Curveball down and away (Ball 2)
5. Curveball over the middle (Strike 3, swinging)

It still all starts with the fastball. But when you can throw the type of curveball Beckett was throwing on Tuesday night, you can keep hitters totally off-balance even without varying your pitches all that much.

"When you're throwing your fastball for strikes, it's amazing how they have to respect that," manager Terry Francona said. "Even if you throw an average breaking ball, it can either be strike one or you can work ahead and throw one off the plate and get a swing and a miss."

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