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Beckett ready to fulfill potential


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JUPITER, Fla. -- Watching the Red Sox close out the Cardinals in the World Series brought back memories for Josh Beckett.

A year earlier, Beckett blanked the Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series, recording the final out when he tagged Jorge Posada before leaping skyward with both hands raised in triumph.


So when Boston's Keith Foulke flipped the ball to Doug Mientkiewicz, retiring Edgar Renteria and concluding the 2004 World Series, Beckett appreciated the Red Sox's accomplishment.


"People don't understand how hard it is to win two years in a row," Beckett said, "how hard it is to get to the playoffs two years in a row."


No National League team has repeated as World Series champions since the 1975-76 Reds. The Marlins were unsuccessful in their bid a year ago, finishing out of the playoffs and in third place in the National League East.

To capture championships, breaks have to fall right, and some luck is involved.


After dominating the postseason in 2003, Beckett endured a hard-luck '04. Three times he went on the disabled list, twice because of blisters.


Healthy again, Beckett remains one of those players projected to obtain greatness.


Entering his fourth full season, the power-pitching Texan is striving to remain injury-free. In all, Beckett has been on the DL seven times, five because of blisters. He continues to use a product called Stan's Blister Ointment, recommended for rodeo riders.


Keeping the callous on his right middle finger intact has been a challenge that he hasn't completely conquered.


As Spring Training activities advance, Beckett is searching to pull his potential together. He's feeling strong and remains determined. In May, he will turn 25, still relatively young. Because of his natural skills, numerous baseball insiders feel he can become as successful as Roger Clemens or Curt Schilling.


New pitching coach Mark Wiley, who formerly was with the Orioles, watched Beckett breeze through the Yankees in the finale of the 2003 World Series.


Like so many others, Wiley was in awe.


"What goes through my mind is you want to get that kid to do that for a lot of years," Wiley said. "Like the Clemens and Schillings, those kinds of guys. He's got similar stuff, and he should have that kind of career. Once he's to where he's prepared the same way every time, and things start to translate in a more consistent basis, and he knows himself better, he should be fine."


On the mound, talent is easily detected. It surfaces at a young age, and is evident by the 97 mph readings on speed guns. Greatness, however, comes with time and consistency.



"If you go back to the history of baseball, you aren't going to find too many guys who are just dominant pitchers right away," Wiley said. "When they get it, they are no different than anybody else."


Blessed with that overpowering fastball, a sweeping curve and baffling changeup, Beckett's skills rank high with the best pitchers in the game. But because of injuries and inconsistencies, his statistics are rather ordinary. A year ago he was 9-9 with a 3.79 ERA. And for his career he is 26-26 with a 3.49 ERA.


For all his setbacks in 2004, he had his most starts in a season, 26. And for the second straight year he struck out 152, tying his career high.


Still, he hasn't held up for an entire season. He hasn't strung together 34 starts in a year or tossed 200 innings.


Much of the Marlins' success this season will ride on the arms of Beckett and A.J. Burnett, another hard thrower with an injury-riddled past.


Beckett understands his importance to the team, but says he doesn't feel the pressure of being the key to the season.


"It's a team game," he said. "Things aren't going to rest on [myself and Burnett]. Both of us missed time and we won the World Series in 2003. I hope that doesn't happen again, being hurt. We're a team. We're going to have to play as a team. We have a lot of talent, but so does everybody else."


What Beckett is striving for, starting in Spring Training, is a regular routine. From the moment he steps into the clubhouse to the work he does on the field, he wants to establish a pattern.


It's all part of the maturation process.


"More than anything, it's just kind of learning a routine," he said. "It makes the season a lot easier when you have a routine. That's what you try to establish right now, so that in September, you still have got that routine. Look at all the great pitchers, they all have their routines. That's what I want to do. I want to be in a routine."


Because of his injuries, he hasn't been able to remain steady in his daily activities. A routine involves everything from preparing the same way from the night before, to stretching, conditioning, long-tossing, running and refining his mechanics in between starts with bullpen sessions.


"You get out of it, for certain little reasons," he said of his past problems. "You get little injuries, and when you come back, you get out of it. You aren't doing the exact same things, and stuff like that."


Another adjustment Beckett is making is understanding his body, which is filling out. Several scouts have said Beckett's breaking ball had a different spin after he incurred his blister problems last year.


Beckett doesn't see it that way.


"It may not be as [much of a 12-to-6 curveball] as it was in high school, but that's because I've just gotten bigger," he said. "My broadness limits some of my flexibility. I used to be able to throw my curveball from [a higher arm angle]. I can't do that now because I've gotten bigger. Now, I'm more on the side. It still has the same kind of break. I think it still spins as good, and all that."


In his first two bullpen sessions this spring, Beckett believed he snapped off some sweet breaking pitches. Now he has to keep gaining the touch to throw it effectively on a regular basis.


Part of the routine is working closely with his catcher. The Marlins now have continuity behind the plate with Paul Lo Duca signed for three years.


Last season, however, the catching duties were split between Mike Redmond, Ramon Castro and eventually Matt Treanor before Lo Duca was acquired in the July 30th trade with the Dodgers.


"Last year," Beckett said. "Every time when it was your turn to pitch, the first thing you did was see who was catching you. It's nice to have somebody who knows what you're trying to do every time out there."


It's all part of establishing a routine, and discovering the pitcher Beckett is projected to be.







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I think Beckett is close now... he just needs to stay healthy.


It wasn't until Schilling's fourth full season as a starter that he catapulted himself into one of the top starters in baseball, and he was 29 at the time. http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?statsId=4267


Pedro Martinez didn't become a top starter until his fourth full season in the majors. He was 25. http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?statsId=4875


Roger Clemens didn't have a breakout season until his third full season, at age 24.



Randy Johnson did not become fearsome until he hit his late 20s/early 30s. http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?statsId=4288


Kevin Brown has his first big season at age 27. http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?statsId=3979


The point is that he's very young at 25... and pitchers have their breakout seasons usually between 24-28/29 and their 3rd or 4th season or more. This is his fourth full season... He's got a lot of talent, so for him the big thing is staying healthy and being consistent. If he stays healthy this year and gets his 34 starts, I think you'll be seeing an 18-20 game winner. Same goes for AJ.

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