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Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 1

Beckett fast becoming a factor

He wins 2d straight with 7 good innings

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 17, 2011

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The best indication of how Josh Beckett feels on the mound is not necessarily the location of his fastball or numbers on a radar gun. After six years of being around the tempestuous righthander, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has his own way to measure.

“When he’s a smart aleck, that’s good,’’ Francona said.

So consider it a positive sign, Sox fans, that Beckett amused himself by being dismissive of questions following a 4-1 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays that featured his throwing seven strong innings and striking out nine.

Take this answer to a query about whether Beckett’s fastball has been better than what he threw last year.

“I can’t remember,’’ he said. “Are we going to just keep asking questions about last year? I mean how many starts do we have to get before we forget about last year?

“I know I stunk last year. We all know that. Maybe we can move forward a little bit.’’

There’s that smart aleck Francona and the Sox love and other teams hate, the guy who disappeared last season because of injury and inconsistency.

In his place is a pitcher who can give the 3-10 Sox a chance to be contenders. Beckett (2-1) has allowed one run on five hits in his last two starts, walking three and striking out 19 over 15 innings.

Not coincidentally, those are the last two games the Sox have won.

Beckett scattered three hits against Toronto, allowing only three runners as far as second base. On a day when his changeup and sinker weren’t effective, he used a fastball to record five strikeouts and his curve for three others.

The Blue Jays, an aggressive team that looks to sit on fastballs, struck out looking five times. They also swung and missed at 10 of Beckett’s pitches.

“Pretty good effort, using all his pitches,’’ Francona said. “Throwing strikes and when he fell behind he could work his way back in the count and get an out. He was very good.’’

Wins and losses are not always a valid indicator of performance for a pitcher. But it’s worth noting that Beckett did not win his second game until July 28 last season, his 10th start.

“Execution-wise, health-wise and everything, I definitely think my last two starts have been a notch above what I was most of the year last year,’’ Beckett said.

Catcher Jason Varitek, who again worked effectively with Beckett, also sees a different pitcher.

“First and foremost, he has health, and that health has helped him get to where he is in steps,’’ Varitek said.

Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon followed Beckett to the mound and held the Blue Jays down.

Papelbon has allowed one run on three hits over five innings and has struck out eight.

“Josh did a great job today. He pounded the strike zone and then the bullpen was good,’’ said first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. “On a cold day like this, we were on our toes.’’

The Sox were inefficient offensively, putting 18 runners on base against Jo-Jo Reyes (0-2) and three relievers but scoring only the four runs.

Jed Lowrie, hitting leadoff for the first time in his career in place of a slumping Carl Crawford, was 3 for 5 with a two-run homer.

Lowrie got the offense started in the first inning when he reached on an infield single. After Dustin Pedroia walked, Gonzalez stroked an RBI single to center and then Kevin Youkilis a run-scoring double to right.

Lowrie lined a pitch into the base of the light tower in left field in the second inning with Jacoby Ellsbury aboard.

“I think we were able to put some good at-bats together and get good pitches to hit. We had some opportunities to score more, but we got enough today,’’ said Lowrie, who is 11 for 22 and pushing to unseat Marco Scutaro as the shortstop.

The offense will get there; it always does with this team. But as the Sox try to recover from their illogical start of the season, pitching is the key. If Beckett can return to form, a big piece of the puzzle is solved.

“He’s always been the leader of the staff,’’ Francona said. “I know he didn’t pitch Opening Day, but guys look up to him.

“When he’s going good and when he feels good about himself, he has that persona. He gives our ball club a lot of confidence.’’

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

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