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Post-Game Notes: Red Sox 2, Twins 1

03.04.10 at 9:29 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — For Josh Beckett, the success of his first start of the Grapefruit League season was easy to measure. Beckett allowed a run on two hits in two innings, striking out one, walking none, and throwing 19 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Yet he defined his effectiveness with another gauge.

“I feel like I kept the ball down well. There were five groundballs [and] two hits – one a line drive, the other a groundball,” said Beckett. “Things we’ve been working on the last two weeks, I’m getting there.”

That Beckett would now measure the success of his performance in terms of grounders represents an interesting evolution of his approach. In 2009, he matched his career best groundball-to-flyball ratio (0.91 to 1, compared to a big league average of 0.81-to-1) and set a new career standard by producing 1.28 groundouts per flyout (more than 20 percent better than the MLB average of 1.06-to-1).

The 29-year-old says that he has not been trying to redefine himself as a groundball pitcher, but that the area of emphasis in his game over the last two seasons has lent itself to a development in that direction. He has incorporated a two-seam fastball that has become as much a swing-and-miss pitch as a groundball-inducing one. As much as that two-seamer with both tail and sink, his ability to work down in the strike zone with his four-seam fastball (the primary pitch that he featured on Thursday) has been a huge factor in his increasing talent for keeping the ball on the ground.

“I think just keeping the ball down, you’re going to get more groundballs,” said Beckett. “The top half of the ball is more exposed than the middle part and the bottom, so I think you’re just going to get more groundballs by keeping the ball down.”

–Of the 13 pitches that Jonathan Papelbon threw in his first inning of Grapefruit League action, he estimated that he threw four splitters. That, of course, is a pitch that Papelbon has prioritized this spring in an effort to present opponents with a broader mix of pitches for which they must account.

Though the pitch didn’t result in any swings and misses on Thursday, Papelbon seemed pleased with the action of his splitter, including one that resulted in a foul ball straight into the ground and another that produced a called strike.

Papelbon suggested that he has taken a greater focus into spring this year. He is not shy about saying that his goal is greatness, and that after some struggles in 2009 (and a season that ended on a note of disappointment, when his 0.00 ERA in the postseason finally took a hit in Game 3 of the ALDS), he is driven to make the needed adjustments.

“I think the day I stepped foot in a big league uniform I’ve always strived to be a great athlete,” said Papelbon. “But I’ve also said too [that] to be a great athlete comes with a lot of hard work and a lot of challenges and a lot of adjustments.

“I feel like right now, I’m just in a phase in my career where I’m having to make adjustments and having to realize the challenges ahead of me and evolve my game. I see how it is – it’s very simple when you look at it. It’s just an evolving time for my game and who I am and what I do.”

–The double play tandem of Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia got its first unveiling in a game, and the results were solid. In particular, Beckett praised the pair for turning a double play when Scutaro ranged to his right on a hard-hit ball by Michael Cuddyer to start a 6-4-3 double play.

“That was a great double-play on a 3-and-1 pitch. That’s the pitch I’ve been talking about since day one of spring training. You don’t have to make a perfect pitch. You make a decent pitch, and the guys behind you pick you up,” said Beckett.

“I don’t think [the pitchers] have talked about [the defensive improvement], but I think it’s just known. Obviously the defense is really going to help us with not having to make the perfect pitch. They’re bad situations for us when we’re behind in the count with guys on base, but I feel like you can just make a good pitch, and if the ball is put in play, you’ve got a good chance of getting some outs.”

–Catcher Mark Wagner delivered the game-winning hit for the Red Sox after entering the game in the top of the eighth inning. He lined a single to left with Josh Reddick (who lined a leadoff double to right) on third to break a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the eighth. Reddick’s ball had surprising carry to right field on a chilly night, and Twins right fielder Rene Tosoni misjudged it, thus permitting it to sail over his head.

–The Sox bullpen combined to produce seven shutout innings. Scott Atchison got the win with a scoreless eighth, and Joe Nelson had the save by putting up a zero in the ninth.

Read More: Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, josh reddick, marco scutaro
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