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April 15, 2011

On the Beat

The Forgotten Man

by John Perrotto

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Josh Beckett entered this season as almost an afterthought in the Red Sox's starting rotation. The right-hander was no longer considered the ace, having ceded that designation last year to left-hander Jon Lester. When manager Terry Francona set up his rotation to begin this season, Beckett had fallen to No. 4 behind Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey, and ahead of only the perennially disappointing Daisuke Matsuzaka.

It seemed much longer than four years ago that Beckett was the Red Sox' undisputed No. 1 starter in leading them to their second World Series title in four years. He led the American League with 20 wins before going 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in four postseason starts.

Beckett was worth a career-best 5.9 WARP in 2007, then dropped off to 3.5 in 2008 and 3.7 in 2009. He then cratered last year with a below-replacement-level season, posting a -0.8 WARP, a 6-6 record, and a 5.78 ERA in 127 2/3 innings.

Considering Beckett battled back problems for most of last season, the simple storyline for 2011 should be his strong desire to redeem himself and prove he is still an adequate pitcher. Yet it isn't that way. He has supreme confidence and says he doesn't feel the need to prove anything.

Instead, Beckett has approached this season with one of his father's favorite sayings in mind: Throw the rearview mirror away, because you can't change something that has already happened.

"Ever since the first day I started working out in November, I've only thought of moving forward," Beckett said. "I put 2010 completely out of my mind. Every ounce of energy I put in was to prepare for 2011 so I could help this team win. It wasn't about proving anything to anybody. It was just a matter of getting in the best shape possible to have a good season."

Beckett has made two starts so far, the first so-so and the second outstanding for a Red Sox team that has stumbled out of the gate at 2-9 after beginning the year one of the favorites to win the World Series. In his season debut, April 5 against the Indians at Cleveland, Beckett took the loss, allowing three runs and five hits in five innings with four walks and four strikeouts. He then stymied the Yankees last Sunday at Fenway Park, pitching eight shutout innings and allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out 10. Jason Varitek, who has caught 112 of Beckett's regular-season starts, said it was the best he had ever seen the 30-year-old pitch.

While Beckett had poor traditional numbers last season, he did compile a 3.78 SIERA, a strong indicator that he was a candidate for a bounce-back season in 2011. The Red Sox are banking on it, as this is the first year of the four-year $68 million extension that Beckett signed at the start of last season. Manager Terry Francona is certain that the Red Sox will get a good return on their investment.

"I don't think it's fair at all to judge Josh on last season, and we don't," Francona said. "He was hurt almost all season and tried to battle through it the best he could. He's proven over the years that he is a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. We know what he's capable of doing, and I'd be the least surprised guy in baseball if he has a big year."

Slotting Beckett as the No. 4 starter seems to contradict that. Francona, though, said not pitching Beckett until the fourth game of the season was the result of a deep rotation, not a sign of reduced regard. Francona was also quick to point out that the rest of the pitchers in the Red Sox' rotation consider Beckett their leader.

"He's really important to what we're doing," Francona said. "Lester's and Buchholz's development has been great, but Beckett is still the guy everyone on the pitching staff looks to as our main guy. He's been the lead horse here for a number of years. You know whenever he takes the mound that he's very capable of getting you into the eighth inning or later and giving you a quality performance. He wasn't able to do that often last year, and I know he had a hard time handling that, because he is such a great competitor. He's healthy this season, though, and it's easy to envision him having a real good season."

PECOTA sees Beckett as due for a rebound, projecting him to go 13-11 with a 3.92 ERA and 2.4 WARP in 180 innings. The Red Sox, though, think that is conservative. They expect at least 200 innings from Beckett if he stays healthy.

As far as Beckett goes, he isn't ready to venture a guess on what his final numbers will look like, saying: "I don't know. You know, you just take it day by day. You're not waiting on the magic bullet. There's no magic bullet. You go out there and deal with what you've got that day."


Rumors and Rumblings: The White Sox are leaning toward giving Sergio Santos a shot as closer now that Matt Thornton is 0-for-4 in save opportunities. ... Left fielder Josh Hamilton has missed 98 games and counting during his four seasons with the Rangers and will be out 6-8 weeks after suffering a broken right arm this week. Hamilton's injury-prone ways are the biggest reason why the Rangers have been hesitant to offer him a long-term contract extension despite his outstanding production. ... The Cubs are considering moving right-hander Jeff Samardzija from the bullpen into the rotation to fill one of the holes left when Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner went on the DL. ... Yankees left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano is leaning toward having season-ending shoulder surgery, and it appears another lefty reliever, Damaso Marte, will not pitch this season following shoulder surgery. ... Angels shortstop Erick Aybar (ribs) is likely to be activated from the disabled list on Monday, and first baseman Kendrys Morales (ankle) and right-hander Joel Pineiro (shoulder) should be back by the first week of May.

The Reds expect to activate right-handers Homer Bailey (shoulder) and Johnny Cueto (triceps) from the DL by the first week of May. ... Blue Jays right-hander Brandon Morrow (forearm) will make a third rehab start for high-A Dunedin on Sunday before a decision is made whether to activate him from the DL. ... Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (thumb) is expected to be activated from the DL on Monday. ... Brewers reliever LaTroy Hawkins' rehab assignment was moved from high-A Brevard County to Triple-A Nashville. He is likely to be activated early next week.


Scouts' views:

Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera: "He's really cutting the bat loose and learning that he has some pop. He used to be content just to punch the ball through the infield, but you can see him really growing and gaining confidence as a hitter."

Rays left fielder Sam Fuld: "He's obviously playing over his head here early in the season, but that doesn't mean he isn't fun to watch. He really gets after it, and you can see he just loves to play the game. There are more talented players, but he does enough things well that he can help a club."

Brewers right-hander Shaun Marcum: "He was as good as I've ever seen him (Wednesday night in pitching seven shutout innings against the Pirates). He wasn't throwing hard at all but his fastball had movement, his changeup was disappearing and he cutter was really moving. He has great command and a great feel for pitching."

Pirates left fielder Jose Tabata: "He looks very comfortable hitting leadoff. He's been a lot more patient than I thought he'd be at the top of the order, and he's really murdering fastballs. You can still catch him off balance with breaking stuff, but he's really improving and has a chance to be a really good hitter."

Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth: "Everyone knows he's a good player, but I think what he's brought to that team is credibility. He's a worker, and he plays the game the right way, and you can see that is already starting to rub off on his teammates and how that club goes about its business. You can see now why they were willing to overpay to get him as a free agent."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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