DETROIT - Maybe Josh Beckett wasn’t being a swell teammate and selfless guy when he told Bobby Valentine to go ahead and let Jon Lester pitch Opening Day. Maybe Beckett was just being smart. The guy who pitched Game 1 against Justin Verlander was not likely to come away with a win for his effort. Going up against Verlander in 2011-12 is like going up against Pedro Martinez in 1999-2000.
Beckett is scheduled to get the ball Saturday in Game 2 of the Red Sox season and even though he’ll never admit it, he’s got something to prove.
The tall Texan can complain all he wants about snitches in the clubhouse and folks who don’t understand that his wife was about to have their first baby when things fell apart for the Red Sox last September. He can roll his eyes when talk shows in Boston overreact to his little side trip to visit a doctor a few days before the start of the season.
Beckett can pretend Saturday is just another game and this is just another season and the only thing that matters is “executing pitches.’’
But none of that is true. Saturday is not just another game and the 2012 season is not just another season in the long history of the Boston Red Sox. Beckett does have something to prove. He needs to show Red Sox Nation he’s something more than an oft-injured pitcher who has averaged 9 1/2 wins over the last two seasons. He needs to show us he’s worth something near the $17 million he’s making for each of the next three seasons. He needs to be better than the guy who gave up six runs to the Orioles in each of his last two starts, when the Sox staggered out of playoff contention in September. He needs to demonstrate he cares about himself, his teammates, and his manager.
Beckett got fat and sloppy last season. He was outed as a ringleader in the Beer-and-Chicken debacle. And in a season in which he went 13-7 with a nifty 2.89 ERA, he came up small when it mattered.
He wasn’t very wordy or chipper when he spoke with reporters in the Sox clubhouse the day before the Opener. He explained his trips to San Antonio (Monday) and Cleveland (Tuesday) to have his right thumb examined by doctors. He said it’s been bothering him for 18 months and that he’d had a couple of cortisone shots, one during spring training. He said he might need surgery someday, probably not during this season.
“Things are a lot better now,’’ Beckett said. “I had some issues the last few weeks of spring training. I’ve been getting through them, but I just didn’t think it was something I should just get through for six months.’’
Asked to specify the injury, Beckett said, “I don’t know . . . there’s a bunch of little bones and stuff in there that have some things going on . . . After a shot, things didn’t go as smoothly as they had in the past, so we had to make sure there wasn’t more stuff going on.
“Everything’s fine. I really have no idea how this got blown out like it did. I was dumbfounded, just from the text messages and e-mails I was getting from guys I was just like, ‘Geez, what’s going on here?’ I think a lot of it had to do with Andrew Bailey also having injured his thumb. But he injured his thumb on one thing and mine was something that’s happened over time.’’
Beckett gave up only two earned runs in 19 spring training innings and said he threw 170 pitches in his most recent bullpen session.
How does he feel about going into this season?
“Got to execute pitches,’’ he said. “That’s it. Plain and simple. All year long.’’
In your mind, is there anything to prove this year?
“You’ve got to execute pitches.’’
Any relevance to the way things ended last year?
“I’ve got to do better than I did in my last two starts last year at executing pitches. That’s the bottom line.’’
What about your role on the team as a staff leader, a veteran guy who might set the right tone at the start of the season?
“I think the way you do that is you go out and execute pitches and get outs. People tend to flock to people who are successful.’’
Beckett gets the ball Saturday afternoon. It’s a chance to restore his place as a staff stopper and leader. It’s a chance to make folks forget some of the bad things that happened at the end last year.
All he needs to do is execute pitches.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.