Valentine shrugs off Beckett issue

BOSTON -- Bobby Valentine made it pretty clear where Josh Beckett's round of golf last week ranked with him on the controversy scale.

"I've never seen a pitcher get hurt playing golf," Valentine said Thursday afternoon.

But he acknowledged there might be a perception issue for a pitcher who golfed a day after being told he was being skipped because of tightness in his lat muscle.

"Do I understand? Sure," the Red Sox manager said. "I like everything to be perceived in the right light, (that) everything we do is seen proper."

That has hardly been the case since WBZ-FM first reported that Beckett had played golf with Clay Buchholz last Thursday. Fan reaction on talk shows and on the Internet has been highly critical of the Red Sox pitcher, who was a lightning rod for his behavior ("a few lapses in judgment," he called them) during last September's collapse.

Buchholz said he didn't understand the fuss, either.

"Not really," he said. "I don't think it was a big deal at all. People feel differently than I do, I guess.

"It was just like last year, the whole beer and chicken thing. It wouldn't have been a story if we would have won and went to the playoffs. There's always got to be something to talk about."

Buchholz was asked if he had to pay attention to what he did off the field.

"I think everybody does to a point, to where if they think it's going to hurt the team I don't think nobody's going to do it," he said. "That was an off day. I believe an off day is a day guys can get away from the field. There's only a couple of them throughout the season.

"If JB (Beckett) was hurting really bad, that wouldn't have been an issue."

Beckett last pitched on April 29 in Chicago, when he threw a season-high 126 pitches in 6 2/3 innings in a 4-1 loss to the White Sox. That was a Sunday. Three days later, Valentine announced that Beckett had some tightness in his lat muscle and his next start would be skipped, with Aaron Cook being promoted to make the start in his place. Beckett said the muscle had bothered him even before the Chicago start, and that he probably should have said something to trainers.

"I don't think there's any concern about him making his next start or even if he could have with the extra day, made this start," Valentine said at the time. "It would have been a situation we would have had to watch carefully, so there's no need."

Skipping Beckett may have had a roster component as well. The Red Sox had to decide whether they were going to promote Cook to the big leagues or allow him to exercise his opt-out clause. Cook started in Beckett's place, was spiked at a play at the plate, and went on the disabled list after it took 11 stitches to close the wound.

But in the meantime, Beckett played golf, a favorite pastime of the vast majority of big league pitchers, including the pitcher facing Beckett on Thursday night, Derek Lowe, one of the longest hitters in the game.

"Again," Valentine said, "I didn't think he was injured. You know, he was skipped."

Asked if he understood the anger directed at Beckett, Valentine said:
"I'm not sure I understand it totally, but I understand the frustration, for sure. I understand the desire for excellence. I have the same frustration and anger for myself, for not meeting the standard."

"I can't say I understand all of it because I wasn't here last year," he added.

The greater context, of course, is that the Red Sox are in last place in the AL East with a 12-18 record, have lost 10 of their last 11 games at home, and have dropped consecutive series to the Athletics, Orioles and Royals, teams that are hardly considered the iron of the American League. The slow start, combined with last fall's dismal finish, have made for a toxic mix.

"I was pretty prepared for it, actually," Valentine said. "I was told there were a lot of negative feelings about last year. The first month of play, we haven't done anything to erase those feelings. We've got to play better, and it will get better.

"It's all my responsibility. Every game we played, the guys' effort has been terrific, we just haven't come up with enough victories. Those are all my responsibilities."