Commentary

Beckett still searching for answers

No excuses for breakdowns as he and Lackey remain out of sync

Updated: August 20, 2010, 1:09 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- This may be the most fractured aspect of this Boston Red Sox season, even more so than the broken feet and ribs and thumbs, the torn ligaments and strained tendons and overused muscles.

Josh Beckett and John Lackey have won back-to-back games just once this season. Lackey beat the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday night. Beckett lost to them, 7-2, on Thursday.

Beckett and Lackey have won games in the same series just once this season.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
AP Photo/Charles KrupaLike Josh Beckett, John Lackey has had his share of struggles for the Red Sox this season.

Lackey has allowed five or more earned runs in eight of his 25 starts, including three of his past four.

Beckett has allowed five or more earned runs seven times in 13 starts, including each of his past three.

Lackey has allowed 186 hits this season, more than any other pitcher in the major leagues.

(That last stat can be a bit deceiving; Roy Halladay has given up 172 hits, the most in the National League, but he walks an average of one hitter a game. Lackey is walking a career-high 3.3 batters a game, which may be what happens when you take up residence in the AL East.)

Beckett has an earned run average of 6.67. Among big-league pitchers who have made at least 14 starts, the number of games started by Beckett, only one pitcher has a higher ERA. That would be Ryan-Rowland Smith, who is 1-10 with a 6.96 ERA for the last-place Mariners.

Put all these numbers together, and they just don't compute. They most definitely don't add up to the nearly $150 million the Red Sox have committed to the veteran right-handers through 2014.

Thursday night, Beckett gave up two singles in the first five innings and did not allow an Angels runner as far as second base. With David Ortiz cranking his 27th home run in the fourth, Beckett carried a 1-0 lead into the sixth.

"I think the first five innings he was crisp, he had good command of his fastball, he executed pitches,'' Sox manager Terry Francona said.

That lasted five batters into the sixth inning, which went ground out, double, double, infield hit, three-run home run. The long-ball belonged to Hideki Matsui, who put a dent into the back wall of the Red Sox bullpen.

As suddenly as an East Texas dust storm, Beckett had become unraveled once more. Even Francona was reminded of the start Beckett had made against the New York Yankees 11 days earlier, when a five-run self-immolation had come in the fifth inning of a 2-1 ballgame.

"You know what, he hit spots all night then he missed on three or four consecutive hitters,'' Francona said. "Sometimes you need a break. You need a foul ball. But it happened on four consecutive hitters.

"Nothing physical.''

And that's the part that is most confounding. When a pitcher of Beckett's caliber suffers through a season like this one, it's almost always physical. Of course he's had his issues, a bad back putting him on the disabled list for 56 games. He pitched well in his first three starts off the DL, which at least temporarily put to rest lingering concerns about his health. But the carnage of his past three starts -- 28 hits, including five home runs and 19 runs in just 16 innings, an ERA of 10.69 -- frames a portrait of a pitcher in distress.

Asked if health issues continued to impact his performance, Beckett simply said, "No."

Not at all?

The pitcher shook his head.

Before the game, Francona also had offered a "No" when asked if there was a physical component to Beckett's struggles. Francona blamed Beckett's struggles in his previous starts in part on an overreliance on his cut fastball. Beckett threw just a dozen cutters Thursday, compared with 50 fastballs. Among all those fastballs, there were only two swings and misses.

You're not going to get missed swings, Beckett explained, when you leave the ball over the middle of the plate.

"The hope is,'' Francona said after Thursday's loss, "he can build off what he did positive and not let the sixth get in the way of the rest of the season.''

The rest of the season can now be counted in weeks. The Sox are 6½ games behind the Yankees, who won their third straight on Thursday, and are 5½ behind the Tampa Rays, who lost to the Oakland A's.

Beckett did not have the look, nor the sound, of a pitcher confident that he can make everything right now when the team needs him most. Excuses? None. But there are no answers, either.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

  • And They're Off
    Boston's runners and citizens are ready to take back their marathon.
  • Early Risers
    Hours after a walk-off win, the Red Sox are back at it in their Patriots Day matinee.
  • That Look In Their Eyes
    The Bruins took it to the Red Wings in Game 2, knotting up their series.
  • Staying Strong
    On the eve of the marathon, the Sox recalled survivors, victims and heroes.
  • Setting The Tone
    As usual, Tom Brady will be front and center when voluntary workouts begin.

MORE MLB HEADLINES