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Red Sox Notebook

Nick didn’t knock Beckett off stride

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 11, 2010

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Josh Beckett swatted at the back of his head like a man annoyed by a mosquito. Only this buzzing came from a line drive off the bat of David DeJesus.

The shot up the middle in the seventh inning last night drove in a run and very well could have caused a serious injury as it nicked Beckett’s head on the way by and changed direction slightly.

Beckett said it was the closest a line drive had come to his face. But his mind was elsewhere as the ball sped by.

“I was thinking about how many runs they were going to score. It didn’t hit me that hard,’’ he said.

Beckett stayed in the game and finished off an impressive outing for the Red Sox, giving up three runs over seven innings in an 8-3 victory against reigning Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. On a night the Red Sox needed to rest their bullpen, Beckett did what was required.

“Good outing, good solid outing,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “What was good was that he was efficient early.’’

Beckett took a 4-1 lead into the seventh inning, having scattered five hits to that point. But it took him 32 pitches to navigate through six hitters.

“That cost me an inning,’’ said Beckett, who was starting for the first time since agreeing to a four-year, $68 million contract extension.

Jose Guillen started the inning with a double and went to third on a single by Jason Kendall. Beckett happily traded a run for a double play when Yuniesky Betancourt grounded to second.

But Chris Getz singled and stole second before DeJesus gave Beckett a scare. Scott Podsednik ended the inning by grounding to second.

With his buddy Jason Varitek behind the plate, Beckett struck out four with one walk, and threw 71 of his 105 pitches for strikes as he took advantage of a free-swinging Royals lineup.

Beckett is 6-0 with a 2.26 ERA in eight career starts against the Royals, 4-0 at Kauffman Stadium.

Bridge not covered
Daniel Bard has been labeled the Red Sox closer of the future, the pitcher who can take over for Jonathan Papelbon if needed. But before he can handle the ninth inning, Bard first must regain his touch in the eighth. The 24-year-old righthander has had a hard time of that so far this season, allowing two hits and three walks over four innings and blowing two saves.

The latest slip-up came Friday night when Bard allowed a two-run single by Rick Ankiel in the eighth inning of a 4-3 loss against the Royals. One out away from ending the inning, he gave up the lead.

“You make a decent pitch and you hope to get a better result,’’ he said. “That doesn’t always happen.’’

Bard had a 2.08 ERA in his first 26 career appearances and quickly become one of the pitchers Francona trusted to get outs in the eighth inning.

But there are adjustments that still have to be made as hitters see him multiple times. Bard had a 6.16 ERA after Aug. 1 and opponents raised their batting average against him from .187 to .288.

“It’s being more aggressive within the [strike] zone,’’ said Bard. “I’m not saying I’m nipping at corners but I need to pitch more to the heart of the zone. Maybe I need to change my mentality early in the count.’’

Francona agrees.

“That’s the first and last thing I tell him every time he comes in: attack the zone,’’ the manager said. “With his stuff, if he attacks the zone, we’ll be OK.’’

Matsuzaka shines
Daisuke Matsuzaka made his first injury rehabilitation start for Pawtucket yesterday, throwing five scoreless innings against Rochester. He allowed two hits, walked one, struck out three, and hit two batters. Of his 73 pitches, 43 were strikes.

Matsuzaka, who missed much of spring training with a strained back and neck, showed improved velocity as his fastball averaged 89-91.

“It sounded like he did pretty well,’’ said Francona, who received a report from the Pawtucket coaching staff. “He worked quick, which means he felt pretty good about himself.’’

Matsuzaka is scheduled to make at least two more starts in Pawtucket to build up arm strength.

“I think the best part of the day was my fastball command,’’ he said through an interpreter at McCoy Stadium. “My fastball was good but my slider and changeup weren’t that great today.’’

Lefthanded reliever Alan Embree followed Matsuzaka to the mound and threw a scoreless inning, striking out two and allowing a hit. Embree can opt out of his deal with the Sox April 15 (Thursday) if he is not in the majors, and the Sox hope to see him pitch at least twice more.

Lineup shuffle
Francona started Jeremy Hermida, Mike Lowell, and Varitek for the first time. The only players on the roster yet to play are Bill Hall and Clay Buchholz. Francona said Hall would start today, and Buchholz is the scheduled starting pitcher . . . Varitek, who hit two home runs, has homered in 13 seasons with the Sox. Only Carl Yastrzemski (23), Dwight Evans (19), Ted Williams (19), Jim Rice (16), and Bobby Doerr (14) have homered in more.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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