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Beckett fails to halt skid

Fastball location is just a bit off

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 6, 2011

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CLEVELAND — Josh Beckett took the mound at Progressive Field last night on the one-year anniversary of the Red Sox announcing they had signed him to a four-year, $68 million contract extension.

It remains to be seen whether that investment was a wise one.

After going 6-6 with a 5.78 earned run average last season, Beckett is 0-1 this year after an uneven performance against the Indians in a 3-1 loss. He lasted only five innings, giving up three runs on five hits with four walks and four strikeouts.

Beckett retired eight of the first nine hitters he faced, then allowed eight of the next 15 to reach base. For every good offspeed pitch he threw — and there were plenty of those — he threw mediocre fastballs.

Cleveland’s long at-bats forced Beckett to throw 106 pitches over the five innings, 82 over the final three.

“I think the adjustments we made [in spring training] are becoming more easy for me to get to,’’ Beckett said. “I don’t revert back to other things. That being said, I can’t throw 100 pitches in five innings. You won’t survive very long.’’

Beckett was unable to finish off hitters, giving up 12 foul balls on two-strike counts.

“My fastball was too high in the zone a lot of times,’’ he said. “I felt my offspeed stuff was pretty good. But I couldn’t get that last strike too many times.’’

Sitdown with Salty Manager Terry Francona stuck with Jarrod Saltalamacchia despite his catcher going 0 for 10 with five strikeouts in Texas over the weekend. The plan is to have Jason Varitek catch one of the next two games.

“I’d really like to get Salty going here. He was so over-anxious and so swinging at everything. I’d like to let him settle in,’’ Francona said.

Saltalamacchia was 1 for 1 with an RBI single and a walk. He was pinch hit for in the eighth inning.

The manager met with the catcher yesterday afternoon.

“I kind of said, ‘Hey, settle down. It’s a long year.’ He knows that. It’s human nature,’’ Francona said. “This game will humble you in a minute.’’

Sox pitchers, particularly the starters, had a terrible series in Texas and Francona is sure that affected how Saltalamacchia performed at the plate.

“Any good catcher, I think they take it very personal,’’ the manager said. “I’ve seen a couple in my day that don’t seem to have a problem with it and it doesn’t usually come on a good team. I think it’s hard not to.

“You’ve got a responsibility to that guy and when he comes off the mound sometimes, he’s in your ear about what happened and all of a sudden you’re the second hitter of the inning. I think at-bats can creep up on you. I think that’s the way it always is.’’

Matsuzaka’s time Daisuke Matsuzaka had a rocky start to the 2009 season, making two starts before going on the disabled list with a sore shoulder that was blamed on his pitching in the World Baseball Classic.

Matsuzaka then started the 2010 season on the disabled list with a strained neck and did not pitch until May 1.

But this season has been uneventful to date. Matsuzaka was healthy throughout spring training and in his last three outings allowed only three earned runs on 10 hits over 16 2/3 innings.

“I thought all spring his arm strength was really good, coming right out of the chute,’’ Francona said.

For the first time since 2008, when he won 18 games, Matsuzaka is healthy to open the season.

“He certainly seems like he’s in good shape. Again, it’s a long year. But it’s a heck of a way to start,’’ Francona said.

Settle down Dustin Pedroia on the team’s offensive approach so far: “We’re swinging at stuff out of the zone, we’re anxious. Everyone wants to do good. That’s what happens. You see a lot of check swings and stuff like that. We’ll settle in. Once you settle in, it’s going to be good.’’ . . . It was 42 degrees at first pitch, a 37-degree drop from Sunday’s game in Texas. There were six large duffel bags in the clubhouse stuffed with cold weather gear and the players just about emptied them out before batting practice. Crawford fished out a winter parka that he planned to wear on the bench and the pitchers were loading up on batting gloves to keep their hands warm. “I’m going to be layered up as much as you can get,’’ Francona said . . . The Sox had a rough ride into Cleveland Sunday night. Their flight was close to landing at Burke Lakefront Airport when it was diverted to Hopkins International Airport for safety reasons. “It was rough,’’ Pedroia said . . . Beckett is 0-3 with a 6.38 in three regular-season starts in Cleveland . . . Relievers Matt Albers, Bobby Jenks, and Daniel Bard combined on three no-hit innings with eight strikeouts.

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

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