By Maureen Mullen
FORT MYERS, Fla. For Josh Beckett the most important goal in spring training is to be healthy.
That was the message he delivered after his last start, Feb. 27 against the Twins. Eerily and frighteningly the very next morning, he was hit in the left temple by a baseball while shagging flies during batting practice, suffering a mild concussion.
In his first Grapefruit League outing since then, Beckett showed no signs of rust or of injury. He went 3 23 innings, giving up one run on three hits and a walk with four strikeouts, as the Red Sox beat the Astros, 3-2, on Tuesday. The run came in the first inning. After walking Astros lead-off batter, T.J. Steele, he gave up a wind-aided two-out double to Drew Locke.
Pretty good, manager Terry Francona said of Becketts outing. I thought he threw his fastball downhill. Stayed out of the middle. Especially coming off a missed outing. He looked pretty strong. The run they scored was the flyball to right that right fielder Josh Reddick probably didnt get a good enough jump on with the wind. I think we were all pretty pleased. Threw some good breaking balls.
Beckett threw 55 pitches, 30 for strikes. He ended each of his three full innings with strikeouts, including Chris Johnson looking at a curveball in the first.
My curveball was good, Beckett said. We changed a couple of things in my delivery, and were still making adjustments with it. The adjustment came faster with the breaking ball. I threw some good changeups. I threw one to a righty on an 0-and-0 count, and I threw one on a 1-and-0 count to a lefty.
One of the adjustments is shortening his stride.
My last start, that was a big thing, getting out too fast, he said.
Beckett threw a three-inning simulated game on Friday, throwing 40 pitches.
Those two days off definitely made me a little more sore today, just going in, he said. I had short rest last time and short rest this time, and it eventually catches up to you. I got my pitches in today. I feel fine. Im ready for a normal five-day deal.
Last season, Beckett went 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA, missing 56 games with a lower back injury.
I dont think he ever got untracked, Francona said. But then he was fighting it. I think it was both. It just kind of snowballed and he was never able to build any kind of momentum in the right direction.
I had stretches in there where I felt good, Beckett said. Felt as good as I have when Ive gone out and competed before. You have other stretches when you dont.
Now, Beckett hopes to put 2010 behind him, rebounding with a healthy 2011.
Theres some mental things, but Id say a large majority of it is physical, he said. Some of that can criss-cross a little bit. Mentally, you have to remember yourself being healthy because, a lot of times, when you look back, all you have is the last thing you did. If you werent healthy, thats what you remember.
Getting through spring training is big, because then youre not playing catch-up. Thats always been my thing, ever since I got here in 06. Im always preaching that to myself and preaching that to you guys as well -- about getting out of spring training healthy. Tito says it well: There are some guys here that are trying to get ready for a long season, and there are some guys here that are trying to make a team, and theres the other guys. I fit in that group where Im trying to get ready for a long season, and this time here is very important.
Just as important, the Sox need a healthy and effective Beckett to help them get where they want to go this season.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen