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Late innings a concern for Beckett

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  September 29, 2010 11:50 PM

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53b0853679f2e110d70e6a7067009f06.jpgJosh Beckett topped out at 96 mph with his fastball tonight and hit 95 mph 11 times. So health is not an issue. Your shoulder and elbow have to be pretty sound to throw the ball that hard that many times.

But Beckett allowed four runs on 11 hits and lost to the White Sox. He ends his season 6-6 with an unsightly 5.78 ERA. This is not what the Red Sox expected after investing $68 million in Beckett back in April.

Let's discount the first eight starts of the season. Those were long ago and preceded a two-month stretch on the disabled list with a bad back.

Let's focus on how Beckett has pitched since returning to the roster on July 23. In 13 starts he was 5-5 with a 4.94 ERA. Over 82 innings he allowed 94 hits and walked 26 while striking out 76.

Beckett's strikeout numbers are in line with his career averages. The 2.9 walks per nine innings are right around what he usually averages, too.

His WHIP was 1.46 in those starts, higher than his 1.22 before this season but not outrageously so.

So what happened? Stamina seems to be the biggest issue. In Beckett's final 13 starts, he had a 13.17 ERA after the fifth inning. His ERA prior to the fifth inning was 3.42.

That's how it happened tonight. It was 1-1 then the White Sox scored three runs in the seventh inning on a flurry of hits.

It seems that hitters are getting more comfortable the third time they see Beckett, which can be the case with a lot of pitchers. But the good ones overcome that.

I asked Josh tonight if he knew any reason for this and he said he hadn't really thought about it. He said he feels fine physically but acknowledges he needs to be better later in games.

"I need to be the same guy on the 120th pitch I am on the first," he said. "I know that."

Becket (and John Lackey, for that matter) could get the same piece of advice from the Red Sox they gave David Ortiz last winter: Come back in better shape. Beckett is 10 seasons into his career and turns 31 next May. He can't take it for granted he's going to be the same guy he was before.

If 2010 proved anything, he isn't.

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