Sox rely on Tek’s support
With catcher’s help, Beckett tops Indians
CLEVELAND — Red Sox manager Terry Francona said several times during spring training that he didn’t like the idea of making Jason Varitek the personal catcher for Josh Beckett.
The plan was for Jarrod Saltalamacchia to catch all the pitchers on the staff and have Varitek fill in when needed.
Then Beckett pitched well the first time Varitek caught him, so well that they were paired up again for his next start. Now, nearly a third of the way through the season, pulling them apart would be nearly impossible.
Beckett and Varitek combined to beat the Indians, 4-2, last night. The pitcher allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings and his catcher slugged a two-run home run and threw out two Indians trying to steal second.
For Beckett, it was the latest chapter in a remarkable bounce-back season. After going 6-6 with a career-worst 5.78 earned run average last season, he is 4-1 and has the lowest ERA in the American League at 1.69 after 10 starts. The righthander has allowed just two runs in his last 30 innings.
“He’s been so consistent, which is a great thing. I think he feels good about himself,’’ Francona said. “He should.’’
The latest performance came against the team with the best record in baseball and on a night Beckett didn’t have a good curveball. He compensated by mixing in more cut fastballs and using a changeup in situations when he might otherwise have thrown a curveball.
“You have to deal with what you’ve got. You’re not going to go out there and have every pitch every time you pitch,’’ said Beckett, who scattered five hits, all singles, walked three and struck out six.
Varitek has been impressed by the versatility Beckett has shown this season.
“He’s had to do it in different ways,’’ the catcher said. “Today was a little more a finesse day than it was a power day. It should make him feel good about himself, being able to pitch in different ways.’’
After giving up a run in the second inning, Beckett did not allow a runner past first until the seventh. Varitek helped make that the case with strong throws in the third and fourth innings.
Shin-Soo Choo singled with two outs in the third, then was thrown out trying to steal second. In the fourth, Travis Buck reached on a fielder’s choice and tried to steal and also was nabbed by Varitek.
“Huge,’’ Beckett said. “That saves me pitches.’’
Ahead, 4-1, in the seventh, Beckett walked Orlando Cabrera with two outs, then allowed a single by Matt LaPorta. With runners on first and third, Rich Hill came out of the bullpen and struck out Jack Hannahan to end the inning.
With Daniel Bard being rested, Hill stayed in for the eighth and handed a three-run lead to Jonathan Papelbon. The closer picked up his ninth save despite giving up a home run to Buck.
“Richie comes in and, in a big situation, did exactly what you’d hope he would do against good hitters,’’ Francona said.
Once a starter with the Cubs, Hill has revitalized what was a flagging career by converting to a sidearm delivery and pitching in relief.
He has thrown seven shutout innings in seven appearances since being called up from Pawtucket May 5 and has struck out 10. Lefthanders are 1 for 12 against him.
“Obviously it’s a pitch-to-pitch focus thing for me,’’ Hill said. “It’s going out and pitching with that conviction every time.’’
After being a starter for much of his career, Hill has taken to coming out of the bullpen.
“I’ve noticed when you get out on the mound, you kind of feel a sense of ease and calmness. It’s making sure you focus on that pitch and execute it,’’ he said.
Fausto Carmona, who threw seven shutout innings against the Sox here April 7, allowed four runs on five hits over eight innings. He walked one and matched his season high with seven strikeouts.
Trailing, 1-0, the Sox used their speed to score twice in the third inning.
Carl Crawford was hit by a pitch and stole second. He moved to third when Drew Sutton grounded to second. After Jacoby Ellsbury walked, Jed Lowrie hit a fly ball deep to center for a sacrifice fly. Ellsbury then stole second and scored when Adrian Gonzalez drove a double down the right-field line.
Varitek homered in the seventh, a two-run shot to right. It was his first home run in 118 at-bats dating to May 30, 2010.
“It was nice, the timing of it. I had good, quality at-bats whether I hit a home run or not,’’ said Varitek, who is 10 for 33 with six RBIs this month after hitting .111 in April.
It was the first victory in five games against the Indians this season for the Sox, who will try to take the series this afternoon with Jon Lester on the mound. He will face Mitch Talbott. The Sox have won nine of their last 11 games and are a half-game behind the Yankees in the division.