Josh Beckett: slow as molasses and no one seems to care

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In addition to the maddening Curt Schilling-Nomar Garciaparra back-and-forth, another thing that made the Yankees-Red Sox game so damn hard to watch last night was its pace. Yes, I realize that’s an old complaint, but it’s still a valid one. These games are interminable and it really drives me nuts.

It’s especially bad when Josh Beckett is pitching. He takes FOREVER to come set and deliver a pitch, and it’s the same whether there is a runner on base or not.  Sure, he’s usually effective, undermining that whole “don’t think, it can only hurt the ballclub” rule, but it’s an aesthetic nightmare.

Terry Francona talked about with with WEEI’s Mike Petraglia yesterday, and he said that he had no intention of speeding Beckett up. He doesn’t want to throw him off his game.  His quote: “if I have my choice of him pitching slow and winning and getting a letter from the [MLB], that’s what I’d go with rather than him hurry and get knocked around.”

And you know what? Francona is right about that. It should not be his job to speed his pitcher up. All he should care about is winning baseball games.

But it is someone else’s job: Major League Baseball’s. And that job should not, as Francona implies, be carried out in the form of letters suggesting to managers that they do something about slow play. Letters which, as Francona demonstrates, he can ignore with impunity. There is a rule on the books that covers it and it covers it quite thoroughly. It’s Rule 8.04:

When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.” The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.

The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.

Baseball should not single out Josh Beckett for enforcement of this rule. It should enforce it across the board.  With umpires empowered to call balls when pitchers dilly-dally. And, I will add, to penalize hitters if they similarly dilly-dally. If this requires some rules tweaks — say, because we now think 12 seconds is a bit too harsh or because we need a different way to deal with hitters — fine.

But baseball needs to take responsibility for this because its failure to do so until now has resulted in a poor product.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.