Beckett strikes out four in rehab start

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Josh Beckett seems to have successfully passed the first official test on his road back to the Boston Red Sox rotation.

Beckett, who has been on the disabled list since May 19 because of a lower back strain, worked the first four innings of Triple-A Pawtucket's game against the Syracuse Chiefs Sunday afternoon at McCoy Stadium.

The right-hander threw 68 pitches, 42 of which were strikes. Throwing mostly fastballs, Beckett surrendered only two hits, including a solo homer lofted to right-center by Jason Botts with two outs in his fourth and final inning.

Beckett, though, shrugged off that blast and finished with a flourish, whipping a 92-mile-an-hour fastball past former big leaguer Kevin Mench, who notched the Chiefs' only other hit against Boston's erstwhile ace, a looping single to center in the second inning.

PawSox manager Torey Luvullo said Beckett had an "outstanding" outing.

"I think his body was feeling great," Luvullo said. "The only thing he asked me [when he came out] was how many pitches he had thrown. I think he was very satisfied.

"He was commanding the fastball. His other pitches will trickle along, but I thought his fastball was electric. He threw some quality pitches. He had energy. He controlled the tempo and threw a lot of strikes. We'll see how he feels tomorrow and go from there."

PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur added: "You look to make sure he stays over his front side. That gives him extension on his pitches. I saw no problems today. He had no qualms."

Sauveur said that if Beckett stays healthy, he should be throwing again in five or six days.

And how did Beckett feel about his outing? What had his objectives been going into the game? How did he feel about the execution of his pitches? How did his back feel? How was his stamina?

Who knows?

Beckett, through PawSox vice president of public relations Bill Wanless, declined to meet with the media, avoiding seven video cameras, a couple of photographers and roughly 15 reporters standing outside the Pawtucket clubhouse.

His car initially was parked outside the clubhouse door, where about 40 fans were lined up, hoping to get his autograph. But as Wanless told the media of Beckett's desire not to talk, the car was moved.

Beckett, who had thrown a couple of simulated games leading up to the start of his rehab assignment, is the first of many rehabbing Red Sox players not to meet with the press after a game.

Of course, the only thing that mattered to the Red Sox was how Beckett fared. And, throughout the outing, Beckett appeared to be loose and throwing freely. A tight strike zone by plate umpire Jon Merry, especially on pitches to the outside corner to left-handed hitters, helped contribute to three full counts to the first four batters Beckett faced.

But backed by some stellar defense -- first baseman Lars Anderson battled the sun and draped himself over the tarp to catch a foul ball in the first inning and right fielder Bubba Bell made a diving catch of a fly ball toward the right field line in the fourth -- Beckett was in total control. He fanned four and did not walk a batter.

"His stuff was getting better as we went along," PawSox catcher Mark Wagner said. "He got stronger and crisper when he was taken out. I thought he executed very well. He pitched like we all expected him to. There were a pitches he missed on, but he located his pitches pretty well. He made my job really easy."

The original plan had been for Beckett to go five innings, in the hope that would be a total of 65-70 pitches. He hit the pitch count sooner, though, partially because, after racking up two outs on a total of three pitches in the third, Syracuse leadoff hitter Boomer Whiting gave Beckett a battle before flying out to center on the 11th pitch of the at-bat.

Beckett's fastball topped out at 96 miles an hour on one pitch in the first inning. He was pretty consistently in the 92 to 94 range before appearing to work his cutter into the repertoire, throwing many such pitches in his final inning. His cutter was in the 89-91 range with decent movement. Beckett also mixed in nine curveballs.

As he walked off the field following his final pitch, applauded by the crowd, which was the second-largest of the season at 10,706, Beckett gave a slight wave to the fans and a little tug on the bill of his cap in acknowledgement.

Beckett also took care of his PawSox teammates by providing the postgame spread.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.