Tuneup, new batterymates key for Beckett
Righty enters first Sox season without veteran catcher Varitek
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For Josh Beckett, his seventh season with the Red Sox will be like no other, simply because of the fingers he will be peering in at.
While Jason Varitek, the recently retired captain, provided a bit of a comfort zone to nearly all the pitchers on the team, nobody relied on him more often than Beckett.
It was no secret that Varitek was behind the plate for nearly every game Beckett pitched.
So among the many things Beckett will try to accomplish during Spring Training, building a rapport with his new catchers will be near the top of the list.
"We're going to try to prep that team within the team the best that we can, knowing it's going to be a project that will evolve as the season continues," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "It won't be a completed project in Spring Training, I don't believe."
Trust between a pitcher and his catchers is built over time, and in the heat of battle.
"I mean, trust is a big thing," Beckett said. "That's one thing Jason was so good at it. I knew when he had just a lot of confidence in one pitch. He would go to it and I would maybe shake it, and he would go right back to it. I knew he saw something that I didn't see."
Perhaps Beckett will need to be more proactive this season, because his catchers might not be quite as perceptive as Varitek, at least from the outset.
It remains to be seen how new Valentine will divvy the playing time between Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach this season, but it's a safe guess that they will both catch Beckett plenty of times.
Beckett made his first Grapefruit League start on Sunday, firing two scoreless innings. He walked two and struck out none. Saltalamacchia was the man behind the plate.
"We've had a lot of dialogue," Beckett said. "I think that was Salty's third time to catch me [in camp], and Shoppach has caught me twice."
While Varitek knew Beckett's checkpoints in his sleep, Saltalamacchia and Shoppach should have them down pat soon enough.
"There are key reminders," Beckett said. "You try to give them a couple of things that you tend to learn towards whenever things aren't going good. For me, a lot of it stems from where my head is going and where my front side is. We've talked a lot about that."
It isn't as if Beckett didn't like his other catchers in the past. But if Varitek was there, Beckett figured there was no reason not to tap into his encyclopedic knowledge and strong instincts.
That security blanket is no longer around, creating the opportunity for Beckett to build new relationships with his batterymates.
"You know, I think it just takes time as far as the signal-calling goes," Beckett said. "I think anybody can kind of get on the same page. They're going to know what I want to throw in certain situations and what my out pitch is that day. A lot of that is just learned each day, in the bullpen, or even through the first three or four innings."
Beckett knew Varitek wouldn't play forever, but it still felt a little odd not to have him when camp started.
"It's strange," Beckett said. "But that's what happens. You play this game long enough -- some of your guys are going to retire. Not everyone hangs around the same team. But I'm looking forward to working with Salty and Shoppy and just getting to know them while we're out there.
"You've got to learn. You work together. That was one thing Jason and I did really, really well. We worked together. There were meetings where I got my way and there were meetings where he got his way. But being able to resolve those differences and making the right call not because one guy's too stubborn, but making the right decision because that's what you've got to do."
Beckett's other big mission this spring will be to gain total feel of his changeup. He wasn't thrilled with how it went on Sunday.
"I think I threw about nine of them, and threw about three of them where I wanted," said Beckett.
But for a pitcher with Beckett's track record, the results of a first Grapefruit League start is never going to keep a manager awake at night.
"I think he got his work in, you know," said Valentine. "He said his Spring Training is to get his changeup ready. His changeup wasn't ready today, but he threw some and he's trying to get his armspeed up on his fastball, and I thought he worked runners OK in the first inning and then he didn't really care in the second inning, but he's healthy. That's a good thing. And he put up two zeroes."