Hyde and seek

Is there a more curious case of Jekyll and Hyde on these Red Sox than Josh Beckett?

Beckett, the crown jewel acquisition of the Red Sox during the offseason, has been about as hit and miss this year as the new season of “Entourage.” Following Friday night’s seven-run pounding at the hands of the punch and judy hitting Athletics, Beckett now sports a 5.12 ERA, the highest it’s been since another disaster at Yankee Stadium early last month.

Most concerning is that this was the fourth time Beckett had allowed seven or more runs in a game this season. He’s surrendered seven runs to the A’s, Yankees, and Blue Jays, and eight to Cleveland in late April.

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Take those four disasters out of the equation, and Beckett’s ERA falls to a much more respectable 3.23. Unfortunately, professional sports don’t normally grade on a curve.
Beckett takes the mound this afternoon against the Kansas City Royals looking for just his second win over an American League team since late May. After three straight interleague victories (against a very familiar NL East thanks to his time in Florida) in which he allowed just six runs combined — and perhaps more notable, just three home runs — Beckett has lost a pair and won a game in Chicago despite allowing five runs and three homers over six innings.
On Friday night, Beckett allowed his league-leading 27th dinger (Kansas City’s Scott Elarton is a close second with 26), a problem that continues to plague him. His win against the White Sox was somewhat of an anomaly in that it marked the first time in five tries that Beckett had won a game in which he had allowed three home runs. Perhaps the less encouraging factor of that little number is that he’s actually allowed that many homers in a game five times (three homers four times, four once).
So, what’s the problem? He’s 26 years old. There’s a start.
That’s not to say there shouldn’t be an inherent amount of immaturity to his repertoire, because it is evident at times that there is. Case in point, his continued belief that he needs to blow every hitter away with a 97 mile-per-hour fastball because…well, that’s what you do when you’re 26, right? Show off your best attributes. There’s an old adage that there’s a difference between a pitcher and a hurler.
Right now, Beckett is more hurler than pitcher. He throws his fastball 71 percent of the time, and when he’s behind in the count, he’ll throw it 78 percent of the time. Despite the fact that the opposition has a .127 batting average when he throws his curve, he throws it just 16 percent of the time; the changeup 12 percent.
But along the way, for all those issues (as well as quelling his health fears), he’s grabbed 11 wins, tied for second-best in baseball. Still though, July has been ugly. Opposing hitters are batting .342 against the righty this month. He’s allowed 15 earned runs over 17 1/3 innings, already just one fewer than he allowed all of April or June. The seven homers are one more than he allowed in either April or June, one less than he gave up in May. Some nights, it’s a complete lack of control. Others, as in a 3-0 loss at Tampa, it’s poor judgment on three pitches, each going for solo home runs.
And it’s all gotten to the point that Red Sox fans simply can not predict which Josh Beckett they’ll see on the mound on any given day against any given team. Friday night was the first loss pinned on Beckett at Fenway, where he is now 5-1. He’s also 4-0 with a 3.45 ERA in day games.
When he’s good, he can be filthy. But when he’s bad, watch out. Until Beckett learns how to harness his repertoire properly, it seems that’s about all you can depend on.