Red Sox

McAdam: New and improved Beckett in 2011

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McAdam: New and improved Beckett in 2011

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Across the continent, the Bruins were fashioning the perfect ending to their season. Inside Tropicana Field, Josh Beckett was flirting with some perfection of his own, albeit with far fewer people watching back in New England.

The game was played at a near furious pace, as though the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were intent on getting their game over with as quickly as possible, the better to watch the Bruins' quest for the Stanley Cup.

Beckett retired the first eight hitters he faced, had the run interrupted by an innocent infield single with two outs in the third, then calmly and efficiently, retired the next 19 Rays he faced until there were no more.

He had thrown 96 pitches and only one had yielded a baserunner.

When it was over and Beckett and the Red Sox had posted a 3-0 shutout, the outing served as an exclamation mark on Beckett's
season to date.

"That's about as good as you can pitch," remarked Terry Francona.

In 14 starts to date, Beckett has allowed one or no runs eight times. He's 6-2 with a league-best 1.86 ERA. That sort of dominance not only positions him as the early favorite to start the All-Star Game for the American League next month, it also puts him squarely into the Cy Young conversation as the season nears the mid-season point.

It's already been a remarkable season for Beckett.

In March, he was slotted in as the team's No. 4 starter and no matter how much the Red Sox insisted the rotation wasn't a pecking order, it sure looked like a lack of faith on the part of the Sox.

The same pitcher who was given a four-year, 68 million contract extension early last April was now being shielded from the imposing
Texas Rangers lineup in the first week, seemingly an afterthought behind Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

But Beckett has re-established himself as one of the game's best starters over the last 2 12 months. He's beaten the New York Yankees three times, on each occasion out-pitching CC Sabathia, the same pitcher who beat him out for the Cy Young Award in 2007.

He's given up more than two runs just twice in his 14 starts and allowed more than three exactly once. He's given up just four homers in 92 innings and opposing hitters are batting a mere .174 against him.

Were it not for some suspect run support earlier -- even last night, his only backing came on one swing by Kevin Youkilis, and
that didn't come until the seventh inning -- Beckett surely would have nine or 10 wins by now. Before Wednesday, the Sox were scoring him an average of 3.9 runs per game, less than half of what they had provided Lester, who, in part because of the strong backing, has a team-high nine victories.

What's behind Beckett's return to glory. Three things:
1) He's not much of a tipper anymore.

Beginning early in spring training and continuing right up to his final exhibition start in Houston, two nights before the season opener, the Sox worked with Beckett on not tipping his pitches.

A few members of the organization noticed it when the team began its workouts at the Player Development Complex and pitching coach Curt Young zeroed in on the problem, coaxing Beckett to make a slight change in his delivery.
2) Better execution and use of his cut fastball.

As some pitchers do, Beckett fell in love with his cutter a year ago and it became too predictable.

This season, according to Francona, he's throwing it more judiciously, though Beckett, stubborn as ever, insists this isn't true.

But something's different. Beckett doesn't throw quite as hard with his four-seam fastball as he once did -- he's regularly 92-93 mph instead of the 95-96 mph he flashed in his youth.

He's more efficient -- needing just 97 pitches Wednesday night - and less dependent on strikeouts. Just three times in his 14 starts
has he fanned more than six.
3) He's more determined.

Beckett has never lacked competitiveness, as his mound demeanor suggests.

But he was plainly embarrassed by his 2010 season and when he got ready to return to Texas last fall, teammates and others in the
organization noted a dedication to return as good as ever.

Beckett hired a different personal trainer, spent time strengthening his core so as to avoid back injuries that had sidelined him in recent seasons and was intent on reporting to camp in better shape.

Months later, he's seeing the results.

And now, the contract extension that didn't actually kick in until the start of this season seems entirely appropriate, and not, as it did a year ago, a financial albatross the Red Sox were being forced to carry.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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