Saturday, August 29, 2009

Francona encouraged, Beckett not so much

"I actually thought he was better," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said in the aftermath of the team's rain-delayed win over the Toronto Blue Jays. "I thought his two-seam (fastball) movement was better. I didn't think his command was where he needs it. But I do think it was an improvement."

Josh Beckett surrendered five runs in five innings on five hits and five walks, striking out nine but allowing two home runs that left the Red Sox in a hole. It was his third lousy start in a row -- his ERA in his last three starts now is 9.94, and his ERA for the season has climbed from 3.10 to 3.80.

The nine strikeouts were encouraging. The walks and home runs were not.

Guess what Beckett chose to focus on?

"I was happy we won," he said. "Besides that, I'm not impressed by myself. We ended up pulling it out, and that's the good thing about being on a good team."

Was there any improvement over the last two outings?

"No, not really," he said, his voice dismissive. "Like I said, I'm happy we won."

Take a look at the charts, first from last Sunday's loss to the Yankees...

... and second from Friday's win over the Blue Jays.

Beckett isn't the type of pitcher to give in, to shy away from pitching to contact because he's afraid he's going to give up home runs. He was around the plate much, much less against the Blue Jays against the Yankees, and that's a sign of shaky command.

Here's another chart tracking the movement on his pitches, first from the game against Yankees last weekend...

... and second from Friday night's game against the Blue Jays.

Not only was Beckett around the plate more in his start against the Yankees, but he was more consistent with the movement of his pitches. He also didn't do much to differentiate his cutter or his changeup from a fastball that sat in the 93- to 95-mile-an-hour range.

In fact, he threw one changeup and just four or five cutters all night, and that turned him into a two-pitch pitcher who looked more like buddy Brad Penny than is going to sit well with Red Sox fans. He threw just his fastball and his curveball, and he didn't command either pitch particularly well.

As Jon Lester could tell you from earlier this season, it's easier to figure out issues with surrendering occasional home runs than it is to figure out issues with walking too many hitters. In that way, Beckett might actually have taken a step back.

It might have been the rain. Beckett pitched through a steady drizzle that eventually turned into a downpour, and that might have affected his command. The righty, to his credit, didn't choose to offer that or any other excuse.

Whatever the reason for his struggles, he's got some serious work to do starting right now.

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