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Beckett's outing a concern for Red Sox

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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Bonus notes from our MLB on FOX broadcast of the Red Sox-Tigers game on Saturday…

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I’m not sure which is more disturbing, Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett allowing five homers and saying he’s healthy or Tigers righty Doug Fister lasting only 3 2/3 innings and going on the 15-day disabled list with a left costochondral strain.

Neither is good, even though the season is only two games old. Still, the Tigers’ offense and bullpen might be strong enough to compensate for a depleted rotation. The Red Sox need production from their Big Three starters — Beckett, lefty Jon Lester and righty Clay Buchholz — to cover the questions in their fourth and fifth spots.

Beckett is dealing with changes in his thumb joint, but insisted after the Red Sox’s 10-0 loss that his problem was not anything physical. Instead, Beckett said he simply left too many pitches in the middle of the plate — a losing proposition against Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Co.

Cabrera and Fielder each hit two homers and Alex Avila had one, leaving Beckett in the uncomfortable position afterward of going through his homers with reporters the way professional golfers go through their cards in news conferences.

“One changeup, a cutter, two sinkers and a fastball,” Beckett said. “They were all in the middle of the plate. And they (the Tigers) hit ‘em hard.”

Beckett, who did not allow a homer and had a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings during spring training, deserves the benefit of the doubt; maybe he just had a bad day against the wrong club. But the Sox staff already is unsettled because of the loss of closer Andrew Bailey, who will be out until after the All-Star break after undergoing surgery on his right thumb.

Two pitchers who are unproven as starters — lefty Felix Doubront and righty Daniel Bard — occupy the fourth and fifth spots in the Red Sox rotation. And to all those who think that Bard, the team’s former setup man, should be the replacement closer, well, the Red Sox have other ideas.

The Sox have no idea whether Bard would succeed as a closer, but are confident that the unflappable Alfredo Aceves can handle the role. There also is this disturbing scenario: Bard fails as a closer after working all spring to be a starter, then is lost mentally.

Sox manager Bobby Valentine acknowledges that the team needs to “formulate” a bullpen in Bailey’s absence. That task will be much easier if Beckett, Lester and Buchholz pitch deep into games. And on Saturday, Beckett lasted only 4 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs.

The Tigers’ questions appear less urgent, but their rotation could become an issue now that Fister is out for an undetermined length of time. The team already was planning to use one young starter, lefty Drew Smyly. Now it will use two, and lefties Andy Oliver and Casey Crosby are among the pitchers under consideration, manager Jim Leyland told reporters Sunday.

Nationals lefty John Lannan surely could be had while earning $5 million at Triple A, but the Tigers passed on him this spring, believing their internal options were just as good. Lefty Duane Below certainly was good enough Saturday, pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the win in relief of Fister. But he appears likely to remain in relief.

The Tigers would need a fifth starter only three times before May 8, so Fister could miss a month without the team suffering too badly. Still, Smyly now will be the fourth starter instead of the fifth. While the Tigers are dying to develop lefties, using two at once might be too much, too soon.

Then again, which team would you rather be, the Red Sox or Tigers? The choice is easy right now, given the questions surrounding Beckett and a Sox offense that, after leading the majors in runs last season, produced only two in the first two games.

The Sox will hit, but they will need their Big Three starters to be elite, or close to it. That’s the way the team is constructed. And that’s why even one poor start by Beckett raises fresh concerns.

FOR PEDROIA, A FRIGHTENING MEMORY . . .

 

You might have heard me talk Saturday about Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who as an amateur suffered an eye injury even more serious than the one the Tigers’ Cabrera sustained this spring.

GREAT AMERICAN RACE

The Junior Circuit is poised for epic AL pennant chases this season.

The story illustrates how difficult it is mentally for an infielder to return from such an incident — and how Cabrera, despite flinching at a ball and committing an error on Opening Day, seems to be doing OK; he successfully handled five chances on Saturday.

Pedroia suffered his injury when he took a groundball off his face while playing shortstop for Team USA in the Netherlands the summer before his sophomore year at Arizona State.

The ball broke six bones above Pedroia’s right eye and one under it; he eventually needed surgery to reconstruct the orbital area. He also had to recover from a concussion and lacerations around the eye.

We know Pedroia now as a brash player with endless confidence, but he told me that after he returned, he didn’t even want to practice fielding groundballs. Only after numerous conversations with Harvey Dorfman, the late sports psychologist, did Pedroia overcome his fears.

. . . AND A STUNNING ONE, TOO

 

On a lighter note, Pedroia also recalls the first time it struck him that Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander was special. The moment occurred at Northern Ohio University when the two were Team USA teammates before their junior years; Verlander was at Old Dominion then.

Here’s what happened, according to Pedroia:

As Verlander played long-toss in foul territory along the first-base line, Pedroia was giving him grief about one thing or another. Verlander said that he could throw the ball all the way across the field and reach the left-field foul pole. Pedroia, turning serious, begged him not to do it, fearing that Verlander would injure his arm. Everyone knew that Verlander would be a top pick — No. 2 overall, it turned out — in the next draft.

Well, Verlander threw the ball anyway — and shocked Pedroia and other Team USA players by hitting the middle of the foul pole on the fly.

All these years later, Pedroia is still amazed by Verlander. He spoke Saturday of how Verlander pitches at lower velocities early in games but thwarts hitters anyway by locating impeccably at 91-92 mph — and, of course, reserving his right to throw 98 at any time.

Pedroia compared Verlander to an old beat-up car that someone might warm up in the driveway for 30 minutes, then drive at speeds befitting a Maserati. Verlander isn’t old or beat-up, and he isn’t going from 0 to 100. But the effect, Pedroia says, is almost the same.

HITTERS GOING IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS?

 

Two games amount to the smallest of samples, but there may be reasons why Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson is off to a fast start and Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis is not.

Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon didn’t like Jackson’s leg kick in 2010, but who was he to argue? Jackson finished with 181 hits and was second in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Last season, though, was a different story. Jackson’s leg kick was so high and his head moved so much that McClendon said he had difficulty recognizing pitches. He swung at too many balls up in the zone, and finished with 181 strikeouts, second most in the AL.

Jackson worked with McClendon to shorten his stride and eliminate his leg kick, and the early results are encouraging: Jackson is 4-for-8 with two extra-base hits, two walks and only one strikeout.

Youkilis, on the other hand, might need some time to regain his rhythm; he endured hip and back trouble last season, played in only 22 games in August and September and underwent sports hernia surgery in October.

He’s healthy now, but batted .195 with one extra-base hit in 41 at-bats during spring training and is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the first two games.

The Red Sox badly need Youkilis to be productive; Pedroia is their only other major threat from the right side. Scouts say outfielder Cody Ross is more vulnerable to good pitching than in the past.

AROUND THE HORN

 

• Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, fighting high cholesterol, says he has dropped 25 pounds in five months since he began eating healthier and stopped drinking alcohol.

As Ortiz, 36, explains, “I don’t want to have this career and make all this money and not enjoy it,” citing health problems that might occur after he retires.

In case you are wondering, Ortiz will have earned nearly $84 million for his career by the time this season is over.

• Joe Buck and Tim McCarver talked on the air about how the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera and Red Sox’s Adrian Gonzalez were minor-league teammates their first two years in the Marlins’ organization.

Former minor-league teammates Miguel Cabrera, William Amaro and Adrian Gonzalez in 2000.

Photos courtesy William Amaro

Cabrera was a shortstop then, and Gonzalez recalls that their 2001 team at Class A Kane County also included four other future major league position players — catcher Matt Treanor, infielders Josh Wilson and Josh Willingham and outfielder Chip Ambres.

• Remember how beat up Tigers catcher Alex Avila was during the postseason, playing with a sore left knee?

Avila told me that he spent the first 2 1/2 to 3 weeks of the offseason either sleeping or laying on his couch in the living room.

He would get up in the morning, take his position on the couch, then stay there and watch television until he went to bed at night. His wife, Kristina, would bring him his meals.

• And finally, the Red Sox’s early schedule is so difficult, another 2-10 start actually would be understandable.

The Sox’s first 15 games are against the Tigers, Blue Jays, Rays, Rangers and Yankees. After that, though, things get easier: The Sox play 22 straight against the Twins, White Sox, Athletics, Orioles, Royals, Indians and Mariners.

Tagged: Red Sox, Tigers, Twins, Braves, David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Willingham, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Wilson, Jon Lester, Austin Jackson, Daniel Bard, Doug Fister, Alex Avila

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