Beckett has mixed feelings about spring debut


Beckett has mixed feelings about spring debut

By SeanMcAdam

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Hours before Josh Beckett tossed his first pitch of the spring, manager Terry Francona was asked, given the pitcher's stated desire to make up for a poor 2010 season, how that was manifesting itself.

How was Beckett acting? Was there something evident to the staff and teammates?

Francona thought for a moment.

"Determined is the right word,'' he said. "Not necessarily loud; determined. He's focusing on a lot of things that he needs to do. Some of it is on his own. He's been pretty diligent about it.''

Beckett's debut was mixed. He got three groundouts from the first four hitters he faced. Then, after a soft lineout to short, Beckett was hit some: a double to right from Chris Parmelee, a run-scoring triple that Darnell McDonald nearly snared above the wall in left, and finally, a lineout to right.

Two innings, two hits, one run -- and some good and bad in Beckett's estimation.

"I felt like I was rushing a little,'' said Beckett. "There were some positives, though. I wanted to get some ground balls; that means you're keeping the ball down and I did that, so that was good.

"I felt like I threw some good changeups behind in the count. They weren't strikes, but that was something else I wanted to do.''

He added that he found himself rushing some pitches, a sign that he's not entirely locked in with his delivery yet.

Beckett mentioned that, early in the spring especially, maintaining health is always a big motivation.

Indeed, two of Beckett's last three springs have been compromised by physical setbacks. In 2008, Beckett wrenched his lower back and missed most of the exhibition season. Then, last year, he was stricken with a nasty case of the flu, which kept him bedridden for several days and left him weak well into late March.

"It's very difficult to lose time in the spring,'' he said, "because you're constantly trying to catch up. I had to make a start in Bradenton last year that I probably shouldn't have, but I had to do it because we were getting to that time in spring training where I really couldn't miss any more time.''

Making all his scheduled starts and building arm strength are keys for Beckett. If he maintains that throughout the spring and into the season, he's confident he can again be the pitcher he was for all of 2007 and for portions of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

"I think if I'm healthy, the numbers will be there,'' said Beckett.

Like teammates Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro, who continued to compete in 2010 despite serious injuries and physical limitations, Beckett earned the respect of his teammates and the coaching staff by continuing to pitch last season though he was nowhere near 100 percent.

"There were times last year when he didn't have to take the ball and he did,'' said Francona. "And it kind of snowballed and he couldn't turn it around. But at the same time, when you're in the clubhouse with him, you respect that even though it was really tough because you know he's out there trying.''

Clay Buchholz, who followed Beckett to the mound Sunday night, noted that the rest of the pitching staff still views Beckett as the leader of the rotation. Jon Lester may have been more consistent the last three years and Buchholz might have the breakout season from the group, but Beckett is the one others follow and respect.

Beckett seemed surprise when he was asked when he would "flip the switch,'' and begin treating spring training games as he would regular season outings.

"I'm competing right now,'' said Beckett.

That's never been the issue. Performance, on the other hand, has been. Beckett's goal of playing for a 100-win team -- which, unprompted, he mentioned again Sunday night -- might be made more realistic if Beckett himself can again pitch like he did in 2007.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

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