Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure said they are only two out of 25 players, but they may be two of the most important players. In fact, you can make the case that the Red Sox’ season hinges on Josh Beckett and Jon Lester becoming the true top of the rotation starters that they’ve been in the past.
Right now, they’re not that at all, and it’s McClure’s responsibility to straighten these guys out.
Manager Bobby Valentine was asked about Beckett’s pre-game routine and if that was contributing to his first-inning troubles — he has a 10.69 ERA this season.
“Josh warms up earlier than anybody in the history of baseball, I think. The question should be, should he warm up later? Maybe. But this is a dog that is hard to teach a new trick to. He’s been very successful warming up as early as he warms up,” Valentine said.
Beckett has done this since he was a young pitcher in the Marlins organization. If he’s resistant to change, he should try it anyway.
“I think it’s worth mentioning,” McClure said. “I don’t think it’s a bad mention even though he’s done it the same way and he had the best ERA in the league as a starter last year. I’ve thought about it before but I’ve been reluctant to mention it. He might say ‘you know, let’s try that.’ ”
McClure said that the time where Beckett sits around after warming up is probably “five minutes’’ more than the average pitcher. Valentine thinks it’s more than that.
“I’ve never seen anybody have the break that he has in between the time he warms up and the time he goes out there. Sometimes the other pitcher is just playing catch when [Beckett] is already on the mound in the bullpen. That’s what he does. I’m not saying it’s wrong. He’s been that way,” Valentine said.
What you’re hearing is because it’s worked for most of his career it shouldn’t be changed. But what was relevant even last season, when he had a 3.90 ERA in the first inning, shouldn’t be relevant now. Right now, Beckett is struggling in the first inning and there has to be a reason for it.
McClure thinks it’s as simple as “he’s not keeping the ball down early in the game. He’s getting pitches up in the zone. He changes that, then he should be fine. This should straighten itself out.”
Valentine didn’t say that changing his routine would yield any results, but insinuated it might be worth a try.
“I don’t know that changing the habit is going to do anything other than give an answer to the question. Is he doing anything different? Oh yeah, he’s doing something different. Big deal. Does that mean all of a sudden something is going to change?” Valentine said.
Beckett got in a hole in the first inning after a misplay by Will Middlebrooks cost him a run, but Beckett’s problems snowballed into the second inning, when he gave up two more runs to fall behind, 4-0.
As for Lester, who goes Sunday, he has struggled mightily. He has not been the ace the Red Sox thought he’d be when the season started. He seemed primed, at 28, to become one of the best lefthanded pitchers in baseball, but he’s fallen far short.
It’s interesting that on Jason Varitek night at the ballpark, it’s obvious both pitchers were influenced so much by Varitek. Could it be as simple as the Sox’ catchers not quite being able to correct the flaws of Beckett and Lester as Varitek was able to do?
Beckett, 5-8 with a 4.53 ERA, and Lester, 5-7 with a 4.80 ERA, also have had three different pitching coaches in the last three years. Could this be a factor?
The other interesting thing is McClure’s coaching style. He rarely comes out to the mound to speak to the pitcher when he’s struggling. McClure prefers a hands-off approach and gives the pitcher the ability to work his way out of his own jam. But is this style working?
Toronto manager John Farrell didn’t hesitate in coming out to the mound and giving Beckett or Lester a piece of his mind when he was Sox pitching coach. It was that tougher approach that seemed to get through to both pitchers.
“Jon will be fine,” McClure said. “As long as he doesn’t get down on himself. It can snowball to where you can self-inflict and put more pressure on yourself. They’re one of 25 guys. They’re important, but one of 25 guys.”
Lester did not want to discuss his pitching problems Saturday. Beckett wasn’t available for comment.
The Red Sox have feelers out to try to obtain a dependable starting pitcher. The Sox have been in on Cubs righthander Matt Garza and Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano. The prize would be Felix Hernandez, but it doesn’t appear he’s walking through that door.
With improved health and a strong lineup, the Red Sox have a good chance of capturing a wild- card spot in the American League. But what’s remained the same as last September is that Beckett and Lester have not been dependable.
Beckett was 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in four September starts while Lester was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in six September starts. So the overall pitching hasn’t been good for a while, even when Varitek was around. One can only hope that with Varitek in town that perhaps he’s detected something to help them recapture their form.
Right now everyone is grasping at straws. But things have to be tried. Whether it’s changing a pre-game ritual, as Valentine suggested, or trying something else in the first inning with pitch selection?
If it’s not either, then at least it’s something you can rule out.
When the Sox tried to change Daisuke Matuszaka’s pregame warm-ups, it did not yield successful results. But at least Dice-K tried.
Yes, they are two of 25 players on this team, but if these two players don’t perform up to their capabilities and their respective paychecks, the Sox aren’t going anywhere.