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Red Sox Notebook

Josh wasn’t joking around

Beckett improves over last outing

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 3, 2010

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BALTIMORE — Josh Beckett had stalked around the clubhouse in recent days, his focus and determination clear. He was not comfortable with his 7.22 ERA or letting his teammates down, and he was set to change the situation.

Yesterday, he pitched significantly better than he had been, throwing seven innings and allowing just two runs on six hits and no walks. Ultimately he earned a no-decision in a 3-2 loss to the Orioles. The performance was not perfect, not by any measure, but it was unquestionably better — especially compared with his outing in Toronto, when he allowed eight runs in just three innings.

“I still don’t think he was completely locked in for him,’’ catcher Jason Varitek said. “He had to battle through it. He didn’t have as good of a curveball. Made some adjustments, [he was] able to keep the ball down. When he’s able to do that, and then elevate when he wants to, it’s a big difference. Threw some sliders today. Didn’t throw quite as many changeups as we did the other day. All in all it was a really good start for us.’’

A good portion of Beckett’s struggles were with fastball command. He hadn’t had it, even as he tried to rely too heavily on his hard stuff. But that improved yesterday, with the command allowing the righthander to go to that fastball often.

“It was much better,’’ Varitek said. “For him, it was definitely a huge step forward. Still it wasn’t easy for him. He had to fight it, work hard to get it.’’

Beckett said of his fastball command, “It was pretty good. I thought sometimes I got underneath it. It’s just constant adjustments I’ve got to make.’’

Beckett allowed both runs in the fourth inning. Nick Markakis led off with a single. After Beckett hit Ty Wigginton with a pitch (for the second time in as many plate appearances), Miguel Tejada singled to load the bases. One strikeout later came a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Nolan Reimold followed by a double to left by Rhyne Hughes scoring another run.

Before the game, manager Terry Francona said Beckett and pitching coach John Farrell were working on “just remembering who he is and what he does good. Sometimes it’s easy, I think, to give the other team too much credit when things aren’t going right. Just some reminders of what he does good.’’

That seemed to come through yesterday.

“I definitely had to get better with my fastball command,’’ Beckett said. “I’ve said this before, the whole game of baseball is predicated on fastball hitting, pitching, everything. For you to compete at this level, you have to have some sort of fastball to throw everything else off of it.

“I definitely think that I took some strides forward from my previous two outings. Still, a sweep’s a sweep. It was frustrating for us to go home from that.’’

Bard the magician
After giving up a key home run to Tejada Friday night, Daniel Bard was able to extricate himself in the eighth inning yesterday with what Francona called “extraordinary pitches.’’

Bard allowed back-to-back singles to Adam Jones and Markakis. Wigginton bunted the runners to second and third. After Bard walked Tejada to load the bases, neither of the next two hitters could come through. Luke Scott missed a 99-mile-per-hour fastball to end his at-bat, and Reimold looked at two sliders to end the threat.

“It’s been good the last few outings,’’ Bard said of his slider. “The home run the other night was on a fastball in a fastball count. I think when I prove I can throw that pitch for a strike as well as a changeup, it just makes the fastball that much better.’’

First things first
After Kevin Youkilis was scratched before the game with a sore groin, Mike Lowell moved from third to first. It was his first chance at the position in the majors. Asked if it felt different than playing it in spring training, Lowell said, “More implications if you screw up. In my thought process, no.’’ Lowell had a difficult day at the plate, going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. “You get sporadic at-bats, to me they’re very valuable,’’ Lowell said. “You’re not seeing the ball as good as you’d like to — I don’t think that’s an excuse, it’s just the fact that I’m not playing every day. I thought there were some close pitches, 2-1 counts become 3-1 or 2-2. There’s a big difference. Those are big sways in the count. But I’d say [the umpire] called them for both sides. I would say that definitely adds to my frustration. You don’t get too many at-bats, you feel like you’re not rewarded for not swinging at pitches. I just felt like I had to expand the zone a couple times, and there you go, 0 for 4.’’ . . . In every game Beckett has pitched with the exception of Opening Day, Varitek has been behind the plate. While there has been some amount of coincidence there — like, say, yesterday’s day game after a night game — it’s also clearly been calculated. Beckett was obviously uncomfortable with Victor Martinez when the catcher first arrived from Cleveland last season, and it seems he feels more at home with Varitek, even though the results haven’t been there. “I think they have a very good working relationship,’’ Francona said. “I think there’s a good connection there. I don’t feel the other way about Victor, though. I just think there’s days when it’s worked out, whether it’s been them throwing a lefty, day game after a night game. Whatever it is, it’s worked out pretty well. I do like it. I don’t know that it has to be that way.’’ . . . It was 87 degrees at game time, with midsummer humidity. Varitek acknowledged it was difficult for the teams to play in the conditions, especially given it was their first time seeing those conditions this season . . . The six extra-inning games for the Sox are the most in the team’s first 25 games since they played seven in that span in 1943, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In 2008, the Brewers played eight in their first 25 games.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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