Boston Red Sox starter Josh Beckett is taking heat for reports he went golfing while supposedly injured last week.
Perhaps he was just preparing for October.
Beckett will try to help the last-place Red Sox avoid a sixth straight home loss Thursday night when they open a four-game set against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians.
Beckett (2-3, 4.45 ERA) will take the mound for the first time since April 29, when he allowed three runs over 6 2-3 innings of a 4-1 road loss to the Chicago White Sox. The right-hander matched a career high by throwing 126 pitches in that outing, prompting manager Bobby Valentine to skip Beckett's following turn in the rotation due to soreness in the pitcher's right side.
While the soreness kept Beckett off the diamond, it evidently wasn't enough to keep him off the links. According to reports, he went golfing last Thursday during a team off day with fellow Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz.
For his part, Valentine attempted to diffuse the controversy.
"He had a sore lat," Valentine told the team's official website. "He wasn't an injured player, I know that. We'll take it from there. But I'm sure that Josh wouldn't do anything that's going to jeopardize his team or his season, I know that."
Boston's hopes of contending in 2012 will be jeopardized if the club doesn't improve its play soon. After dropping the first five games of May to conclude a six-game homestand, the Red Sox (12-18) lost two of three on the road to a Kansas City club that had been 2-12 at home before Boston came to town.
While the Red Sox try to avoid dropping six straight games at Fenway Park for the first time since April 6-19, 2010, they'll be facing a couple of players who may remind them of better times. The Indians (17-13) feature leadoff man Johnny Damon and Thursday's probable starter Derek Lowe (4-1, 2.39), both of whom played key roles on Boston's 2004 club that won the World Series.
Lowe, whose final game in a Red Sox uniform was the 2004 World Series clincher, has only faced Boston once in his career, a 3-0 loss at Fenway on June 20, 2009, when he allowed three runs over 6 1-3 innings for Atlanta.
The sinkerballer has yielded two or fewer runs in four of his first six starts for Cleveland, which acquired him from the Braves last offseason. He didn't earn a decision in Saturday's 11-inning, 5-2 loss to Texas after giving up two runs and scattering nine hits over six innings.
Damon is batting just .167 in eight games since joining the Indians following an 0-for-4 effort in Wednesday's 8-1 loss to the White Sox. Cleveland had eight hits, but went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and settled for a split after taking the first two contests of a four-game set.
"A lot of it falls on my shoulders,'' Damon said. "I'm the leadoff guy and I've been pretty awful. It affects the guys coming up after me. I definitely need to get it going.''
The Indians are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak of 2012.