No-nonsense Beckett values performance most
Dodgers newcomer plans to make adjustments in hopes of prolonging career
GLENDALE, Az. -- OK, Josh Beckett sometimes says the wrong thing. He shrugs when asked about this.
"I've never been that way," Beckett said. "I feel like I do a pretty good job of saying what I want the message to be. That's just who I am."
Well, all right.
"If I pitch badly, I'll stand right in front of my locker and tell you," he said. "If I pitch good, I'll usually say, 'The position players picked me up.' I'm going to stay that way. I'm good with the perception that I have in here. That's the biggest thing."
Ah, perception. That's one of Beckett's favorite topics. Last season, when a reporter questioned him about the fans who booed him and the idea that he wasn't liked by his Red Sox teammates, Beckett stopped him.
"I think you guys need to talk to more people that actually know me," Beckett said. "That's the thing. See what my teammates in Boston say."
Actually, Beckett's teammates in Boston liked him. They also appreciated his no-nonsense approach to things. He did not usually say the things he was expected to say and didn't care if his words came out wrong.
For instance, last season, Beckett missed a start with an injury and then was seen playing golf on a Red Sox off-day. He got hit hard in his next start and was asked about the golf outing. He should have said something about never doing anything to hurt his team, that the injury wasn't impacted by a round of golf.
Instead, he said that what he does on his day off is no one's business but his own. In a fishbowl like Boston, his words blew across the landscape, seemingly conveying that he didn't care enough.
Beckett does care, though. He cares deeply. He cares about his teammates and his team. He just thinks it all comes back to one thing.
"If you don't like what someone is saying about you, do something about it," Beckett said. "If you pitch good, they can't say anything bad. It doesn't matter. When you don't pitch good, other stuff gets brought into it. But if you don't like that part of it, just pitch good."
Looking back on it now, Beckett has no regrets about his seven seasons with the Red Sox. In that span, he was a three-time All-Star and helped Boston win the 2007 World Series.
Beckett's last 12 months there were filled with controversy, beginning with the team's historic collapse late in the 2011 regular season. And then last season, as he attempted to make the middle-age adjustment from thrower to pitcher, the right-hander got hit hard and became part of the worst Red Sox team in 47 years before being traded to the Dodgers.
"I always enjoyed Boston, Fenway Park -- all of it," Beckett said. "I didn't pitch good [in 2012]. That was the biggest thing. The year before, I pitched good all season but had a bad September. It's just the way things worked out. Everybody has a bad month or a hiccup here or there. Mine just came at a bad time, when my team needed me.
"I just wasn't doing the things I needed to do. I wasn't locating the ball. That's part of me learning who I am now. Instead of having the mindset of throwing the ball by guys -- that's what I did for eight years -- I've got to do some different things."
How about the fried chicken-and-beer storm made public after Boston's 2011 collapse and the notion that the Red Sox were out of control off the field and underachievers on it?
"None of that exterior stuff matters if I'd pitched good, and we'd made the playoffs," Beckett said. "Is it stupid? Yeah. We were the same team that had the best record in the middle of August. There were a lot of little things going on there that didn't make us pitch bad or hit bad, but there were a lot of things that were not in our control we were having to deal with."
Beckett's 32 now, a veteran of 12 Major League seasons, a two-time World Series winner. This Spring Training is his first with the Dodgers -- a new beginning of sorts.
"You bet I'm excited," Beckett said. "I'm always [excited] about new challenges. Coming over here, I've learned a lot from talking to the guys. [Chris] Capuano has been through several elbow surgeries. I've learned from [Aaron] Harang. I can't learn much from [Clayton] Kershaw because he's so good. He's better than I ever was. Being on the East Coast, I didn't get to watch a lot of West Coast baseball. It was eye-opening for me to see how good he is."
Beckett is part of the dream team the club's new ownership has assembled, but he's also trying to prove himself all over again. He's no longer the 23-year-old kid who blew the Yankees away with 97-mph gas on his way to a shutout for the Marlins in the clinching Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.
Instead, as Beckett has learned in recent years, he must do things differently. His velocity has declined, so he's throwing more cutters and curveballs, fretting more about location than at any point before.
Kershaw and Zack Greinke have two spots in the rotation nailed down, and manager Don Mattingly and his staff have six candidates for the other three slots. Based on his 2.93 ERA in seven starts for the Dodgers last season, Beckett will almost certainly have one of the jobs during this season of optimism in Southern California.
"I think velocity is something that leaves you at some point in your career," Beckett said. "It's a game of adjustments anyway. We all have to make 'em. I think I have to rely more on location instead of trying to throw it through a wall. That's something where you have to set your ego aside. You still have the same mentality. You go about it the same way. But there are certain times where you think, 'I'm going to throw this ball by this guy.' Then you think, 'Wait a minute, I can't do that. All right, I'm going to throw the ball off the corner and have it work just off the corner.'"
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.