Exhibition or not, Beckett's focus is already there

Exhibition or not, Beckett's focus is already there

Exhibition or not, Beckett's focus is already there
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- So when will Josh Beckett flip the switch on and treat his exhibition starts like a real game? It turns out that he's already there.

"Well, I'm competing right now," Beckett said. "It's very difficult for me to go out there and pitch against the Minnesota Twins [and let up]. I know that they're missing a couple of those guys in the middle, but it's still a very good lineup. It's very hard for me to go out there and say, 'Oh, this is my first start of Spring Training.' I'm trying to get every one of those guys out. It doesn't always work, but that's what I'm trying to do."

In his first exhibition start of 2011, Beckett retired the first five batters he faced before running into a little trouble. Chris Parmelee took him for a double down the line in right and Jason Repko smashed a triple off the wall in left.

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Over two innings, Beckett gave up two hits and a run. He threw 23 pitches, 15 for strikes.

Though he is well-established by now and doesn't need to impress anyone with glittering Grapefruit League outings, Beckett is all business heading into his sixth season with the Red Sox.

Then again, when hasn't Beckett been a picture of competitive fire? It's just that this year, after the 5.78 ERA letdown that was 2010, there is even more of that.

"Even in the meeting we have with the position players and the pitchers before they go out on the field, he came in and sat [straight up]," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He wasn't sprawled out. He's a veteran guy. He doesn't need to hear that from us, the rah-rah speech.

"Determined, I think, is the right word. He's not necessarily loud, but just determined, focusing on a lot of things that he knows he needs to. He's been doing some of it on his own, and some of it started with [pitching coach] Curt [Young]. He's been diligent about it. That's good."

In the abbreviated outing on Sunday night, Beckett seemed to have a pretty good feel for what went right and what went wrong.

"I felt like I was rushing a little bit," Beckett said. "There were some positives though. I wanted to get some ground balls and get the ball down and I pretty much did that, so it was good."

What is most vital for Beckett at this point is that there are no health issues.

In 2008 and '10, there were issues during Spring Training that got him out of his routine. Beckett is one of the most routine-oriented pitchers in the game. His preparation for a season is essential.

"It was very difficult [in 2008 and '10] because you're constantly trying to catch up and, you know, I made a start in Bradenton last year that I probably shouldn't have done, but I had to do it because we were getting to that point in Spring Training where I couldn't miss any more time," Beckett said. "Health is always a big thing during Spring Training."

Beckett's back went south on him early last season and he never recovered. Perhaps there is nothing more to the righty's rebound than staying away from serious injuries.

"I think if I'm healthy, the other numbers will be there," Beckett said.

Aside from trying to stay out of the trainers' room, Beckett will spend the spring looking to build a solid foundation with new catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

"He's going to be fine," Beckett said. "He's got one of the best catching instructors [in Gary Tuck]. I've never seen anybody work like that guy. He has a great guy to follow as far as [Jason Varitek]."

Saltalamacchia's assessment of Beckett against the Twins?

"I thought he looked OK," the catcher said. "We were working on some stuff, trying to mix some pitches up. We didn't use all of his pitches but I thought all in all, he did well. There were a couple of balls that got away from him. I think we were happy with the process."

Beckett is driven this year, not just to rebound from his personal woes of a year ago, but to be a vital part of a team he truly believes can be special.

"I think we have a really good team," Beckett said. "We have a chance to do something really special that I've been wanting to do my whole career and haven't been able to, which is to be on a team that wins 100 games. I think that this is the first real legit chance that we have."

And to have that chance at 100 wins, the Red Sox will need Beckett to be the good Beckett.

"He's our workhorse," said Red Sox righty Clay Buchholz. "He's the guy that's going to go out there, and we're going to all feed off him. He's a competitor. He's going to go out and give it his all every time out. That's what everybody expects from him."

Beckett will continue to build his base for the 2011 season on Thursday, when he starts a home game against the Phillies.

"My next one will definitely be important," Beckett said.

To Beckett, they are all important.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.