Saturday, October 3, 2009

Beckett not as shaky as box score shows

It's customary around these parts to give a guy a pass for the first inning when he's gone 10 days without pitching.

(Yes, you can say that with a Texas accent. It's thematic.)

With that in mind, if you ignore a first inning in which he gave up a pair of runs on three line drives, Josh Beckett actually pitched pretty well in his final regular-season outing. He got 11 of his final 12 outs via either a ground ball or a strikeout. Even the two runs he surrendered in the second inning came thanks to a pair of ground balls through the infield -- if either of them had found a glove, he'd have been out of the inning without any damage at all.

"He looked like he hadn't pitched in a while, and I think that's expected," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "They hit some fastballs early, but the way he finished the last three, I thought it was really productive."

Said Beckett, "I don't know about rust. I definitely needed to get some emotions in check. Every pitch I tried to throw harder than the one before that. It caused me to miss location. ...

"If they ever go to a nine-man rotation, I'm not in."

Most importantly, after the first inning, he kept the ball down and out of the middle and gave the Indians little chance to do anything with it. You know what's coming: Let's go to the charts!

Beckett's first inning of work:

Beckett's final four innings:

(The approach chart, keep in mind, equalizes for lefties and righties. Everything on the left side of the chart is on the inside half, and everything on the right side of the chart is on the outside half.)

"He was able to locate his pitches a lot better," catcher Victor Martinez said. "The first couple of innings, he was overthrowing, and he was missing his spot a lot. After that, he settled up pretty good, and he was able to his spots."

A couple of things to notice about his outing:
* After the first inning, he didn't give the Indians anything up and in, the type of pitch good hitters yank over the Green Monster.

* He featured his sinker -- occasionally labeled as a two-team fastball by the Pitch F/X system -- more than he did in his last home start, a loss to the Angels. Beckett threw sinkers on 10 of his 114 pitches in that game but threw changeups on 14 of his 98 pitches on Saturday night.

"There were some things I wanted to touch on, and one of them was the sinker to extension side," he said. "That's something we've kind of been working on, whether it be to a lefty inside or to a righty away. I felt like we did that the last few innings."

* His breaking ball, normally a 12-to-6 hammer of a curve, didn't hammer quite as much as it normally does. The vertical break of the pitch generally was recorded between five and 10 inches against the Angels two weeks ago but was recorded between two and seven inches against the Indians on Saturday.

The horizontal movement, though, seemed to be about the same.

* He maintained the velocity of his fastball consistently throughout his outing. Against the Angels two weeks ago, he dipped below 94 miles an hour after 50 pitches or so and never got back above that point, but against the Indians on Saturday, he hit 94 miles an hour four times in his final inning of work -- including 96 on his second-to-last pitch.

* Beckett entered the game with 194 strikeouts, needing six to become the sixth American League pitcher this year to top the 200-strikeout plateau -- and to top that plateau for the first time in his career.

He fanned five.

His 199 strikeouts this season, though, still are a career high.

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