Saturday, July 24, 2010
Beckett gives Sox just what they needed
By Joe McDonald ESPNBoston.com
SEATTLE -- The last time Josh Beckett stood on the mound in a major league game, he slipped on the wet clay at Yankee Stadium and suffered a lower-back injury.
That was May 18.
More than two months later, the right-handed ace returned to the rotation for the Boston Red Sox and gave his teammates some hope that the club may be able to turn things around and make a strong push in the American League East.
Adrian Beltre hit an RBI double in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners to help the Sox squeeze out a win.
Beckett worked 5 2/3 innings and allowed one run on five hits and three walks and recorded five strikeouts to help the Red Sox to a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Friday night at Safeco Field. He had to settle for a no-decision, but the Sox are thrilled with his return.
"Oh, man, that was so encouraging," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He was really good, but I also thought he had enough."
Beckett said he felt good despite feeling methodical at the start of the game when he allowed his only run in the first inning. After that he was able to settle in and be effective.
Prior to his injury, Beckett had a new four-year contract worth $68 million to go along with a 1-1 record and a 7.29 ERA. Now, he's taking this opportunity as a fresh start.
"That's how I kind of have to go at it," he said. "Obviously I can't control what happened earlier between the injury and the ineffectiveness. I have to go out there and do my job."
Beckett, who dealt with a similar injury to start the 2008 season, was hoping to return to the rotation in early June, but during a bullpen session on May 28 pitching coach John Farrell noticed the right-hander was having trouble repeating his delivery and the session was stopped.
Francona, Farrell, Beckett and the club's medical staff decided it would be best to slow down the pitcher's rehab process because there was too much at stake for Beckett and the organization. In fact, he wasn't allowed to pick up a baseball for two weeks.
Beckett admitted after Friday's start that he had, in fact, re-injured his lower back during that bullpen session in late May because he was trying to rush back. So finally being able to return to the rotation was a long time coming.
"I kind of went through a period when I was looking forward to it too much," he said of his return. "That's how I ended up re-injuring myself and then I got to a point where there was no light at the end of the tunnel and I was shut down for two weeks. When you're shut down for 14 days you don't know how you're going to respond. I was fortunate I rebounded quickly in the build-up process because I think I could have been on the DL a little longer."
Even though Beckett tossed two rehab starts for Triple-A Pawtucket earlier this month, Francona knew the pitcher's stamina wouldn't be completely back to 100 percent when he returned. So the plan was to keep him on a pitch count of about 100. When Beckett exited the game with two outs in the sixth inning, he had reached 98 (62 strikes) and given the Red Sox just enough.
"I got a little bit fatigued," he said. "I felt OK going out there, but the six ups and downs, plus the pitch count, caught up a little bit. Hopefully next time I'll be better."
He did exactly what was expected of him and the bullpen did the rest. Relievers Scott Atchison and Daniel Bard held the Mariners scoreless before closer Jonathan Papelbon finished things off and recorded his 22nd save of the season.
"He was awesome," Bard said of Beckett's return. "It's just what we needed and he was able to get relatively deep in the ballgame given he was on a pretty strict pitch count. We [the bullpen] were thankful for that after getting eaten up [Thursday] night. He looked good. His velocity was good and he was throwing three pitches. We're excited to have him back."
Even though Beckett had to settle for the no-decision in his first game back, he was happy with the job the bullpen did en route to the victory.
"They were great," Beckett said. "You can't ask much more from them."
Atchison earned the victory in his 1 1/3 innings of work. He admitted his fastball command was a tick off so he had to rely more on his cutter against his former team.
"It's nice to be back here," said Atchison, who played two seasons (2004 and 2005) for the Mariners. "It's a beautiful ballpark and I really enjoyed playing here. There are no ill feelings, but it's always nice to come back and pitch good against the team that you played for. The win on top is just icing on the cake."
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Bard retired the side in order in the eighth inning and hasn't allowed a run to score in 15 consecutive outings.
While the pitching staff was doing its job, the Red Sox needed an offensive spark. They received it in the top of the seventh inning when Bill Hall crushed a solo homer that proved to be the game-winning run. It was his 10th homer of the season and second in as many games.
Still, Hall wasn't focusing on his offensive performance, because he realizes Beckett returning to the rotation is much more important.
"He was huge," Hall said. "That's just a small version of what we're going to get for the rest of the year. He hasn't logged a lot of innings because he's been injured. From a fatigue factor, I think he's going to be very healthy and very strong for the rest of the year because of the amount of innings he hasn't pitched. He's going to get stronger every outing and if he goes out and can be as dominant as he was tonight, we're going to be really good down the stretch and we're going to need that."
The Red Sox haven't had their entire starting rotation intact for much of the season due to a slew of injuries. This week, both Beckett and Clay Buchholz returned from the DL. If the starting staff can remain healthy for the duration, it will be the key to staying in the race, especially with Beckett back in the mix.
"It's nice to get back in there myself and contribute," he said.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.