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Beckett wants to make his fast start last


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Beckett wants to make his fast start last

By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer

April 14, 2005


MIAMI (AP) -- Always his harshest critic, Josh Beckett knows better than to exult in his latest flash of brilliance.


He wants it to last, because that's the only way he'll shake his reputation as an immature, injury-prone underachiever who has failed to fulfill the potential he showed in the 2003 postseason.


As the ace of a staff that's off to the best start in baseball, Beckett is 2-0 with an ERA of 0.00 going into his third game of the season Friday against the Mets in New York. He professes to be unimpressed with what he has done so far.


``It's early,'' he says, sounding suddenly like a sage veteran at age 24. ``Just because I'm 2-0 doesn't mean I'm going to win 20 games.''


Beckett learned that the hard way. Long touted as a future 20-game winner, he has never done better than 9-8. Last year he vented frustration with profanity-laced, self-deprecating postgame assessments, along with unseemly complaints when an official scorer's ruling hurt his ERA.


The big Texan began this season with a career record of 26-26 and the determination to do better. He has benefited from the addition of 39-year-old left-hander Al Leiter, acquired to fill a slot in the rotation but also to serve as a mentor to the Marlins' young pitchers.


Leiter and Beckett were assigned adjacent lockers in the clubhouse, and both pitchers say the relationship has been positive.


``What I've been impressed with about Josh is that he talks about greatness and wanting to do stuff the great pitchers do,'' Leiter says. ``He may not do it, but he has good work habits and throws the ball as well as anyone, so I don't see why not.''


What great pitchers do is take the mound more than 30 times a year, which Beckett has yet to do since joining the Marlins in late 2001. He has spent seven stints on the disabled list, including three last year, usually because of finger blisters.


Beckett was healthy for the final two months last season and dominant in spring training. The Marlins believe he's poised for a breakthrough season -- if.


``If he can stay healthy,'' catcher Paul Lo Duca says, ``it's going to be a fun year.''


Beckett agrees.


``Everybody knows I've always been a confident guy,'' he says. ``I don't doubt myself in too many situations.''


Florida's hard-throwing twentysomething starters all show signs of blossoming this spring. On Tuesday, A.J. Burnett threw his first nine-inning complete game since returning from reconstructive elbow surgery. The next day, Dontrelle Willis threw his second shutout in as many starts.


Because of a fitful offense, the Marlins are just 5-4, but they lead the majors with a 1.36 ERA, four shutouts and four complete games. Through Wednesday, the other 29 teams had combined for two complete games.


Manager Jack McKeon believes pitchers are more likely to stay healthy if they throw a lot, and that includes Beckett.


``I'm not afraid to let him go nine,'' McKeon says. ``Complete games are unusual because the industry doesn't allow guys in the minor leagues to pitch any innings. They baby them so much. Five innings and you're out of the game. Sure, save his arm so he can go on the disabled list three years later.


``It's hard to convince the three-piece-suit people running the business today that letting guys pitch a lot is the way to go. The whole industry has gotten that way. Hopefully we can lead the league in complete games.''


While durability has been a problem for Beckett, he also has shown he can last nine innings. He threw two shutouts in the 2003 postseason, including a five-hitter against the New York Yankees to clinch the World Series.


Eighteen months removed from that success, Beckett is no longer appearing on magazine covers or network talk shows.


``He has a lot more focus going into the season this year than last year,'' teammate Mike Lowell says. ``There were way too many distractions for him coming off his performance in the playoffs. Whether he liked it or not, everyone was tugging at him in different directions.


``I saw a different guy in spring training this year. He's off to a good start. It's good for him, and good for us.''

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