Commentary

The swagger is back for Josh Beckett

Red Sox starting pitcher is rebounding nicely from his disappointing 2010

Updated: April 17, 2011, 7:51 AM ET
By Steve Krasner | Special to ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Remember last year? And the guy who was wearing Josh Beckett's uniform? The one who suffered through an injury-plagued, un-Beckett-like 6-6 record with an ugly 5.78 earned-run average?

Well, if his past two starts are any indication, that guy is gone while the "real" Josh Beckett has re-emerged with the Boston Red Sox.

Saturday, the right-hander limited the Toronto Blue Jays to three hits and one run in a sharp seven-inning stint that included nine strikeouts, leading the Sox to a 4-1 victory at Fenway Park. The win snapped Boston's three-game losing streak and lifted the team's record to a still-worst-in-the-majors 3-10.

[+] EnlargeJosh Beckett
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJosh Beckett wants to move on from his dismal 2010 season, and he's proving it in his outings.

That performance came on the heels of Beckett's eight-inning, two-hit, 10-whiff masterpiece in a 4-0 triumph over the New York Yankees on April 10. His first start wasn't terrible, either, but he lasted only five innings, surrendering three runs in a 3-1 loss at Cleveland.

The past two, though, have been good enough for the tough-to-please Beckett that he has become more of a smart-aleck in the clubhouse -- and that's a good sign for the pitcher who has ace-caliber ability on a team with World Series title aspirations, even with the dreadful beginning to this season.

"He was very good; that's two in a row," said manager Terry Francona. "That was a really good effort. He used all his pitches: the changeup, breaking ball, two-seamer, four-seamer. If he fell behind in the count, he was able to battle back and get an out.

"He's always been the leader of the staff. I know he didn't start on Opening Day [Jon Lester did], but guys look up to him. When he's going good, he has a persona, a swagger, that gives our club a lot of confidence."

And make no mistake, this is a team that needs as much confidence as it can get at this point. The Red Sox, the trendy pick to win 100 games and capture the World Series crown, have been woeful.

Beckett, now 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA., is one of the team's bright spots, along with utility man Jed Lowrie, who went 3-for-5 Saturday, including a two-run homer in the second that put Boston on top 4-1.

He's always been the leader of the staff. When he's going good, he has a persona, a swagger, that gives our club a lot of confidence.

-- Red Sox manager Terry Francona,
on Josh Beckett

Last year for Beckett? Well, that was another story, one Beckett would prefer to forget. In fact, the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder would like everyone to bury his 2010 season in the past.

"How many starts do I have to make before we can stop [talking about 2010]?" said Beckett after Saturday's outing. "I know I stunk last year. We all know that. Maybe we can move forward a bit."

Certainly Beckett was in command against the Jays, an aggressive hitting team that feasts on fastballs. Beckett threw his fastball, but also mixed in his curve and cutter to great effectiveness. His two-seamer wasn't as devastating to lefties as it had been against the Yankees, but overall his repertoire was solid enough to tame the Jays.

"They're an aggressive team," said Beckett, who surrendered only Travis Snider's RBI single in the second. "We knew that going in. We had a good game plan. There were some well-located pitches.

"The last two games, it's nice to pitch well. The last two starts were a notch above what I was most of last year."

Beckett didn't exactly show a lot of improvement this spring, either. He was inconsistent as he worked on a few mechanical changes.

"He's getting better," said catcher Jason Varitek, the Sox veteran captain who has caught Beckett's past two starts. "Step by step since day one of spring training. At least he has had his health to be able to tweak his mechanics. Sometimes it takes time. He definitely should feel good about himself. He's come a long way

"We need quality starts, period," added Varitek, talking about the hole the team has dug itself. "We had a chance to blow this game open, but didn't. But we pitched. We need that from everyone on the staff. We need quality start after quality start. That will turn things around."

The Sox now turn to Lester, their younger ace, to keep things rolling when the series continues Sunday with Boston trying to carve out its first two-game winning streak of the year.

Steve Krasner is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

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