One of the questions the Los Angeles Dodgers faced heading into the 2014 season, was how the back end of their starting rotation would take shape. Dan Haren was signed in the off-season to presumably fill the fourth slot, and Paul Maholm was also signed, with the idea he would contend for the final spot.
Along with Maholm, Josh Beckett, coming off surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome, and Chad Billingsley, recovering from Tommy John surgery, were also believed to be in consideration to be named the fifth starter. Manager Don Mattingly selected Beckett to complete the rotation in a decision that seemed shaky as the right-hander had suffered a right thumb contusion that limited his ability to throw his full arsenal of pitches.
Beckett eventually recovered and also overcame a minor calf/ankle issue, to make his season debut on April 9 against the visiting Detroit Tigers. The 34-year-old naturally didn’t have his stamina up to speed and showed some signs of rust in the outing. According to the OC Register’s Pedro Moura, two days after Beckett’s debut, catcher A.J. Ellis, who was on the 15-day disabled list at the time, approached Beckett with an improvement plan of sorts:
It was basically, ‘This is what you (expletive) need to do,’” Beckett said. “But he didn’t put it that brutally. He said, ‘Hey, I want to show you some numbers.’”
According to Ellis’ research, opposing batters were having a difficult time hitting Beckett’s breaking ball, which the pitcher was throwing sparingly:
And he finally goes, ‘People just don’t hit your curveball.’”
Beckett has just a 1-1 record through seven starts and the lone win didn’t come until his last outing on May 13. However, Beckett has turned in one consistent start after another and to date, leads all Dodger pitchers for the longest start this season at eight innings. Though Beckett has bought into Ellis’ plan, he admits to needing to remind himself he’s no longer the young, power hurler:
Even now, while I feel like I am making this adjustment, I still fight myself from time to time thinking this is 2003. Then I have to tell myself, ‘Wait, this isn’t 2003.’”
Mattingly has expressed his surprise over Beckett’s contributions this season, largely due to the uncertainty of what was to be expected with the pitcher coming off an invasive surgery. While the Dodgers struggled to find a productive catcher to fill in for Ellis during his stint on the DL, his injury in turn may have delivered the team a refined and improved pitcher.
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