Beckett enjoys successful first bullpen session
Right-hander ready to compete for fifth spot in Dodgers' starting rotation
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Josh Beckett has texted enough with Chris Carpenter to know that the medical condition they share can end a pitcher's career, as it did Carpenter's.
But Beckett said it won't end his.
The Dodgers right-hander seemed to back that up with his first bullpen session on Monday, throwing 30 pitches free and easy. At no time did Beckett stop to rub the feeling back into numb fingers, as he often did last Spring Training in what proved to be a hint that something was wrong.
Beckett said the thoracic outlet surgery that cut short last season has solved the numbness and tingling he had felt "for years." He said he's ready to reclaim his role in the Dodgers' rotation as the fifth starter, knowing the club has enough doubt about his health that it chased Bronson Arroyo and signed Paul Maholm for protection.
Despite Maholm's presence, manager Don Mattingly sounds like it's still Beckett's job to lose.
"It's just if he's healthy," Mattingly said. "Josh throws the ball good. He's been a quality pitcher for a long time and he still has good stuff. How he bounces back, we'll see. We've had nothing but positive reports all winter. Josh has never been in the 'pen [but neither has Maholm]. Obviously, it's a competitive situation. We're not handing anything out for anybody. If he's healthy, we'll see."
Stopping short of saying he's willing to be a reliever, Beckett did say he wants to remain a Dodger and make up for last year, when he missed the last 4 1/2 months of the season.
"I felt they treated me really good through everything, and I feel like I want to repay that," he said.
The Dodgers acquired Beckett in the 2012 blockbuster trade with Boston that also brought Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles. Beckett went 2-3 with a 2.97 ERA for the Dodgers that season, but was 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA when he hit the disabled list on May 14 last year.
Although he's in his 13th season and is seven years removed from a runner-up finish for the American League Cy Young Award, Beckett, 33, believes he's still got plenty left. He said he never felt pain or really lost velocity because of the injury, but the rib that had compressed the nerve and artery near his neck dulled his touch and "I had no idea where [the baseball] was going to go."
But now, "I'm not tentative," Beckett said. "I'm going to throw as hard as I can and see what happens. Right now, I feel great. I'll throw the ball until I blow out and I'm hoping that's not for a few more years."
The July surgery that Dallas' Dr. Greg Pearl (also Carpenter's surgeon) performed on Beckett removed the first rib, an intricate procedure that requires cutting away the nerves and connective tissue front and back. Beckett said he threw two bullpen sessions in Texas before Monday's stint at Camelback Ranch, leaving "no doubt" that he's healthy.
"I feel I'm throwing as hard with less effort as last year," he said.
Beckett said he's had issues with his neck in past years and numbness when he awoke, which he traces back to the same problem. He said Carpenter's surgery was "more complicated" than his, but communication with Carpenter "helped me a lot and got me through the mental part."
Beckett said there are little signs that tell him he's better, like the fact that he can now maneuver the steering wheel of his car with his right hand.
"I was ecstatic about that," he said. "It's crazy how the simple things become difficult to do."
The impressive bullpen session on Monday was Beckett's way to validate Mattingly's approach that Beckett is presumed to be "a regular guy" as compared to "a rehab guy" in this camp.
"I'm far advanced for February," Beckett said. "I'm probably not going to start Opening Day in Australia. They're paying a guy [Clayton Kershaw] a lot of money to do that. Not all of us are getting ready for those days [in Australia]. Some of us have a little more time than it appears we do."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.