Beckett likely to start Sunday vs. Jays
Righty shows no ill effects of back spasm in intrasquad action
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In his final rehab outing before joining the Red Sox in Toronto on Thursday, Josh Beckett started an intrasquad game at the team's Minor League complex. Beckett went five innings, allowing one run on two hits and no walks, and striking out six. He threw 64 pitches, 47 for strikes.
"I felt good," said Beckett, who was scratched from his March 8 Grapefruit League start against the Marlins with back spasms, and was placed on the disabled list on March 19 with tightness in his lower back. "Everything was good. The most important thing is health. Any time you're coming out of Spring Training, that's what we try to do, and that's kind of what this is for me -- trying to get out of Spring Training healthy."
Beckett is all but certain to be activated by the Red Sox on Sunday and pitch that day against Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona will confer with Beckett, general manager Theo Epstein and pitching coach John Farrell before officially naming the righty as his Sunday starter.
"More likely than not, he's going to probably pitch that last game in Toronto," Francona told reporters in Oakland. "[I] kind of reserve the right to sit with Theo and John and Josh together, and there's no reason to have that conversation until he does his work after the start, but everything was fine."
Beckett was taking a wait-and-see approach after his start.
"I don't know. It's not my decision," he said. "I haven't talked to anybody. I just got done pitching. So I'll see how tomorrow goes, and hopefully ... I'm sure you'll have the news sooner than I will."
The intrasquad game -- comprised of Class A and extended-spring players in the Boston organization -- afforded Beckett flexibility in his outing. He threw 11 pitches in the first inning, 16 in the second, 10 in the third, 19 in the fourth and eight for one batter in the fifth. The original target was 65 pitches over five innings, but when Beckett got to 64 on his last batter -- a called strikeout -- that was enough. He threw all his pitches, with his fastball sitting at 93 or 94 mph.
Goose Gregson, Boston's Latin American pitching coordinator and Gulf Coast League pitching coach, monitored Beckett's start.
"I thought it was a very positive outing," said Gregson, who also umpired from behind the mound. "It was a structured design, that's why it was a little inconsistent with how many hitters he faced. ... What I liked most was how focused and businesslike he was, and he started that in his bullpen [session]. He stayed as structured as he always is. He's a very structured guy, and he took that same businesslike approach in the bullpen and took that right into the game.
"We kind of talked through what we wanted to do each inning. We had a little leeway on the number of pitches each inning. He ended up [going] up and down five times, 64 pitches. So I thought it was a good time to end it with a called third strikeout, on a good note.
"I saw a very fluid delivery, no effort in his delivery, whatsoever. I think he topped out at 94 [mph] but very consistent, which you look for. And especially daytime, 10 a.m., probably less adrenaline. Even though he's very focused, probably less adrenaline than the average outing we might expect. So that all plays into it. Just a solid outing."
One of the hits Beckett allowed was a home run to right field to Yahmed Yema, who led off the second inning. The left-handed batter had just three homers in 28 games in an injury-shortened season for High-A Lancaster last season. It was the first home run Beckett allowed this spring.
"I didn't know that. But that's good, I guess," said Yema, Boston's 10th pick in the 2005 Draft. "That's not the first time I faced him. I faced him in '06 in an intrasquad game. But when you face a big leaguer, it's always a good experience. That was even more intimidating [in '06]. Yeah, he struck me out that time, a 3-2 fastball right down the middle. I just swung through it."
When asked if he was tempted to back Yema off the plate in his next at-bat, Beckett laughed. Yema had a seven-pitch second at-bat, fouling off three of Beckett's offerings before grounding out to second base, impressing the pitcher.
"He put some really good at-bats together," Beckett said. "[The home run] wasn't even the most impressive at-bat to me. He hit a bad pitch. I didn't throw a very good pitch, and he did what good hitters do. It was a sinker, actually, but I left it right down the middle of the plate. And his next at-bat was actually more impressive, the one where he grounded out. I mean, he fouled a changeup off. He fouled a back-door curveball off. [The] front-door sinker he just kind of stayed inside and fouled it down the left-field line."
"I just kind of hung in there a little bit," Yema said. "But it was a good experience."
An experience that can't always be imparted from coaches to younger players. Gregson was glad that his players had a chance to see the routine of the Sox ace, who was 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA and the Majors' only 20-game winner in 2007.
"They asked me how many pitches [he threw] when he threw in the bullpen," Gregson said. "And it was 53. He will tell you he's normally between 45 and 55 pitches as he warms up for a game, and that's because he's done it so often. If we took a young pitcher down here and said, 'OK, warm up,' if you didn't monitor the number of pitches, slow them down, speed them up, sometimes they might throw 15 or 20 or 12 and say, 'I'm ready.' They were amazed. They said, 'Golly, he threw for a long time.' Yes, he did, but he paces himself, and every pitch has a purpose.
"Our guys watch his delivery, and they're amazed at how simple his delivery is, yet how hard he's able to throw and how he can throw the fastball to both sides of the plate. Most of our young kids are max effort. They see how hard they can throw. Josh sees how [easily] he can throw the ball hard. So it's fun to watch."
Catcher Rafael Gil had a front-row seat for Beckett's outing.
"That was nice. I enjoyed catching him, because where he is, we want to be there," said Gil, who joined the Sox as a nondrafted free agent in 2003 and has spent the last two seasons with the Gulf Coast League Sox. "I wasn't [intimidated], because I wanted to catch him, and it's good catching a big leaguer, because they throw only strikes. So it was easy. His sinker is an outstanding pitch, four-seamer fastball. Everything was good."
Deshaun Brooks, who was with short-season Lowell in 2007, had the other hit off Beckett, a second-inning single to left.
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.