Beckett ready to break out
Right-hander taking things slower in second season with Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Hanley Ramirez smacked Josh Beckett's first pitch of Sunday afternoon right up the middle for a single, and it was almost symbolic of the type of rush to judgment that might have been easy to make surrounding the two players who were traded for each in November 2005.
Ramirez, after all, won National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2006. Beckett, though he did win 16 games, allowed 36 homers, second in the American League. His 5.01 ERA was a career worst.
But as Beckett proved throughout the rest of Sunday's outing against his former team, the Marlins, it's not wise to make a knee-jerk reaction.
In leading the Red Sox to a 12-6 victory over the Marlins, Beckett allowed three hits -- all singles -- and one run (unearned) over seven innings. He struck out seven.
Just for a refresher, the Red Sox sent Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and two less heralded prospects to the Marlins in exchange for Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell.
Perhaps it is one of those rare baseball trades that seems to be paying equal dividends on both sides. Ramirez has established himself as an emerging star. Sanchez threw a no-hitter last year. Lowell is entrenched in Boston as a clubhouse leader, a defensive stopper and a doubles machine. And then there is Beckett, who hopes to be a more consistent pitcher this year.
"Yeah, I certainly think the Red Sox are happy that I'm here," said Beckett. "I definitely think it worked out for their organization and they got a shortstop of the future, along with another really good pitcher, for myself and Mike Lowell."
And for those who have observed Beckett from the day Spring Training started, he appears to be on a mission to have that type of season scouts have been projecting for him for so long.
Beckett, still young at 26, just might be ready to break out.
"He's commanded, for the most part, three pitches: his fastball, changeup -- or variations of his changeup, depending on how he's throwing it -- and his breaking ball," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
In fact, of Beckett's 92 pitches on Sunday, 24 of them were breaking balls. Beckett is throwing the bender in any count, and it's making his fastball more dangerous.
"Commanding the baseball helps more than anything," said Francona. "You command three pitches and you add that velocity and the life to the fastball, you've got a chance to overwhelm some people."
Beckett isn't just making adjustments to his pitch selection, but of perhaps more importance are the mechanical adjustments that should make those offerings less hittable.
He is determined to put more finish on his fastball this year, which should send the home run total way down.
"If you look at my mechanics from last year to this year, I'm a lot slower, particularly out of the windup," said Beckett. "I think going slower at the beginning and not rushing through your delivery, it helps me just throw the ball late. It's just like a golf swing -- your power is the last three feet of your golf swing. Same thing with pitching. The last foot and a half of my arm slot is what dictates how hard I'm going to throw the ball and where I'm going to throw it."
Perhaps there was just too much going on for Beckett last year. He was in a new city -- baseball-crazed Boston, no less -- and in a new league with more offense.
Not only are Beckett's mechanics slowing down, but perhaps so is his mind.
"A lot of it is just relaxing and throwing my pitch and getting back to the way I used to throw -- not trying to throw hard from the get-go," Beckett said. "I'm slowing everything down and I'm throwing hard late."
Before last year, Beckett's chief obstacle always was the untimely blisters that would develop on his right hand. But he eliminated that last year, which was perhaps the biggest benefit of the trade.
"Like I said, it's an everyday thing for me," Beckett said. "I have to take care of it. It's not something that I think just went away. I definitely think that getting out of the humidity of Florida has helped."
Though the Red Sox did face the Marlins in Interleague Play last year, Beckett didn't pitch. This was his first outing against the team that made him the second overall pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft.
But the team he left -- the won he won a World Series with -- is no longer around, aside from Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and a couple of others.
This is a new generation of Marlins now, with players like Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham and, oh yeah, Ramirez.
"I know he had a great year," said Beckett. "He's an unbelievable talent. Great athlete. Anybody who can go up there and hit the first pitch of the game right back at somebody, he's definitely got some athletic skills."
The next two times, Beckett retired Ramirez, which was a reminder that the talent the Red Sox acquired from Florida isn't too shabby either.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.