The first three innings for Josh Beckett at Fenway last night were the best three innings I have seen him pitch this season. His fastball was crisp, his cutter had late life and his curveball had crazy 12 to 6 tilt. The aggressive Texan had 6 strikeouts through 3 innings against some very good hitters in the Yankees.
One of the biggest issues he has had this season is with his secondary pitches, particularly his curveball. When it does not have the big vertical hook, it flattens out in the middle of the plate and becomes a 77 MPH batting-practice spinner. I actually thought that pitch was mostly working last night (as evidenced by nice ratio of swing and miss strikes), but a few times (as in the Swisher 3-run homer), it simply disappeared. Despite how poorly this game ended up for him, seeing that curveball dive to the dirt against lefties is encouraging. Remember, he did have 8 strikeouts last night (matching his season high).
The question is, can Beckett put aside all the negativity and bad feelings he has about himself and simply pitch to his ability? In seven starts, he has one win. He should have 3. Two of his three starts were lost by the bullpen. The other four starts, well, they have been horrid.
Like Buchholz with runners on base, Beckett seems to lose some of his trust and confidence and tries to overcompensate by throwing his fastball harder. Beckett has always been an emotional pitcher, and when he is on, he is able to harness it effectively without panic.
Right now, Beckett is in panic mode.
His frustration with not making a few pitches got kind of ugly last night when he pegged Derek Jeter in the back with the bases loaded. That one was obvious. Many people will argue that he tried to hit Cano, but I don't buy it. He had been throwing inside on almost everyone last night, and the cutter to Cano missed and hit him on the knee. Who goes after a guy at the knee? It was a fluke.
He seemed upset by crossing up Varitek with a fastball that hit Tek in that upper shoulder region where there is little protection (when Tek actually called for a curve ball). He was upset at giving up hits, walking a few guys. The whole thing got out of hand quickly with him. I will not be surprised when one of the Yankees pitchers hits Pedroia or Youkilis or Drew in this series. Expect it. It will happen.
As much as I like Francona, my biggest gripe for years has been how long a leash he gives his starters when they are obviously struggling and need to be taken out. Beckett needed to be bailed out after hitting Jeter. He should have been reprimanded privately for intentionally taking his frustration out by giving up runs. If a base open, that is one thing. But with the bases loaded? Unacceptable. Throwing in the towel is unacceptable.
Luckily, this hasn't bitten Francona when it really matters all that much (no Grady Little moment in the playoffs or World Series--maybe Masterson in the playoffs against the Rays in 2008). But when it comes to Josh Beckett, he may need to revisit his policy on trying to give his "ace" confidence.
Beckett is not an ace right now, and he may need a little time off to figure his mental stuff out. His pitching stuff is not far from being there. He needs to trust that he has it and can get out of jams. Right now, it's pretty obvious he is unable to handle much pressure. It's time to address it head on.
What's the over/under on Beckett winding up on the DL?
"Four people are sitting around a table, talking about baseball, five minutes of it, very dull. Suddenly a bomb goes off. Blows people to smithereens. What does the audience have? Ten seconds of shock." -Alfred Hitchcock