Beckett hopes for sophomore jump
Righty comfortable following disappointing first year in Boston
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Talk about a tough year to digest and analyze. In Josh Beckett's first season with the Red Sox, he set career highs in wins (16) and innings (204 2/3) while setting career worsts in ERA (5.01) and home runs allowed (36).
Is 2006 something Beckett is trying to build on or learn from? Truthfully, the right-hander, who comes into spring camp this year minus all the hype of the prized newcomer he was a year ago, is hoping to do both.
"You always think about it," said Beckett. "You go home and take about a month and a half off and start thinking about things you want to change and things you want to improve on. I had some ups and downs last year. I just want to be a little more consistent this year. It's one of those deals. You always want to get better. You want to get better from start to start. You definitely want to get better from season to season."
But if there is just one thing Beckett could bottle from last year's erratic Boston debut, it would be this: He made every start.
The knock on Beckett in the past had always been that he was too prone to injuries. Blisters were a particular nag. During a season in which nobody else could seem to stay healthy for the Red Sox, Beckett was the one immovable rock in manager Terry Francona's rotation.
"That was my goal last year -- to throw 200 innings," Beckett said. "Obviously, I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs and everything like that. I fell short on some of those goals. It wasn't a complete success. I'll set new goals and move on. I think it's a big step in my career, just showing me and everybody else that I can be that guy that makes every start."
And what is Beckett's goal for 2007? He feels it's best to keep that simple.
"I want to be better," Beckett said. "I don't really like to [elaborate]. My goals are my goals. I'm not going to sit here and tell [the media], 'I want to do this or I want to do that.' I want to be better. That's the main thing. I want to help this team get to the playoffs and hopefully win a World Series."
Considering that it was 3 1/2 years ago that Beckett won a World Series MVP Award for the Marlins on the heels of a dazzling performance against the Yankees, it's hard to remember that this is still a young man at the age of 26. Beckett is still learning how to turn his sometimes electrifying stuff into season-long success.
In hindsight, Beckett thinks he could have used the superior game-calling skills of Jason Varitek more to his benefit last year.
"I think there toward the end of the year, our relationship really evolved," said Beckett. "I'm looking forward to this year expanding that and making it an all-season deal.
"That would be the one thing, if I could tell [Daisuke] Matsuzaka anything, it would be, 'Trust 'Tek.' That was something, coming in, I just wanted to get along with everybody. You're the new guy. You still have your way of doing things. I've never seen anyone prepare like him. I think if I would have changed one thing about last year, it would have been to just come in and trust him."
Beckett is also putting his trust in new pitching coach John Farrell.
"He actually flew out to Texas, and I had about a three-hour lunch with him at a barbecue joint, which I thought was impossible to do," said Beckett. "We just sat there and talked, and I like a lot of his ideas. I think he's going to be a big help. That's not to take anything away from what Al Nipper and Dave Wallace did last year."
Farrell came away with a highly positive impression of Beckett.
"Josh is a very committed, very professional pitcher. It was a chance to just be able to form a relationship that I think is going to be needed to gain that trust," Farrell said. "So as I provide feedback and recommendations to him, there's some history there. And I've learned more about him other than just the pitcher and what makes Josh go. He's an extremely motivated, talented pitcher."
This could be the year that talent turns into candidacy for the Cy Young Award. In a year in which Matsuzaka, the club's new Japanese import, will gobble up much of the attention, Beckett should have en easier time staying under the radar, which is his preferred destination.
"I think there were so many expectations placed on him last year, and rightfully so," said Francona. "But he's comfortable. He's here early. He looks terrific. He understands his work program. I have a year under my belt with him. There's another year of maturity. I think, again, this kid loves to compete. He won 16 games even with bumps in the road, and I think there are brighter days ahead for him."
Joining forces with Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, Beckett will be a part of what could wind up being the best rotation he has pitched in.
"If baseball was played on paper, we'd be pretty good," said Beckett. "We've just got to go out there and perform. There's going to be a lot of learning curves for new guys, and there's going to be a lot of things that I still need to learn. Everyone just needs to go out and do their job."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.