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Beckett readies for encore


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Beckett readies for encore


By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com


JUPITER, Fla. -- It's good to be the World Series MVP.


Marlins right-hander Josh Beckett certainly is reaping the rewards for his postseason heroics.


Since shutting out the Yankees in Game 6 of the series, Beckett has gained attention like no Marlin ever before.


Major League Baseball featured him along with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in a national TV ad promoting Opening Day. Shortly after the series, he was a guest on The Tonight Show.


Socially, the brash Texan is dating Fox Sports Net correspondent Leeann Tweeden, and he rode in the pace car with singer LeAnn Rimes at the Daytona 500. He partied in New Orleans on New Year's Eve, and he was offered -- but declined -- free Super Bowl tickets, even though the game was played near his home in Houston.


Not bad for a 23-year-old who feels he hasn't come close to untapping his vast potential.


While the image remains fresh of Beckett tagging Jorge Posada to close out the series, the ace of the Marlins' staff quickly notes 2003 is part of the past.


This year, Beckett remains as confident as ever that the Marlins will be a force in the National League.


Payroll and prestige-wise, the Marlins aren't in the same league as the high-profile Yankees. But just because the Yanks added A-Rod, Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown doesn't have Beckett writing off the season before it starts.


"You'd be stupid not to pick them," Beckett says of the Yankees. "But everybody was picking them to beat us in the World Series. Baseball is not played on paper. You've got to go out and play the games, no matter what. Once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen. We showed that last year, getting hot at the right time."


Beckett, the projected Opening Day starter, is confident the Marlins will contend.


"We're not a large-market team, but we are still fielding a very good team," he said. "We're young. Experience doesn't win you anything. We are going to be very competitive this year."?


The Marlins' formula for success is winning with pitching, defense and speed. Manager Jack McKeon has made it clear he is banking on the starters to pile up lots of innings.


"I've got to carry over what I did the second half of last year," Beckett said.


Before the All-Star break, Beckett was 3-4 (3.86) in 53 2/3 innings. But afterwards, he improved to 6-4 (2.55) in 88 1/3 innings.


Carrying the weight of World Series MVP doesn't bother him. From the time he was the second pick overall in 1999, greatness was anticipated.


"I don't worry about the pressures other people put on me," said Beckett, who is looking for his first injury-free season. "I just go out and play the game. Nobody puts more pressure on me than me. I don't worry about what other people say. I know I want to do good."


The best seems yet to come for the 6-foot-5, 218-pounder who is the Marlins' answer to the Cubs' Mark Prior.


Based on the postseason, where he tallied two complete-game shutouts, Beckett is primed to be mentioned with the likes of Prior.


Where Prior has the edge is he's an already proven 18-game winner. In two seasons hampered by injuries, Beckett is 17-17 (3.32).


"He's great," Beckett says of Prior. "He's won 18 games and I haven't [done that]. I take that with a grain of salt. It's not that big a deal. I am just the first Josh Beckett, and shouldn't worry about being the heir to Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan. You should go out there and do your thing, and hopefully everything falls in place."


The blister problems that plagued his 2002 rookie season are behind him.


Finely conditioned and immensely confident, Beckett seeks better numbers than the 9-8 (3.04) mark of a year ago.


In the off-season, he worked with a personal trainer, emphasizing his lower body to build stamina and take the pressure off his arm.


"I did a lot of power-stuff," Beckett says of his weight room routine. "Stuff with bands on your feet to get strong. I think it's going to help."


The results are paying off in early bullpen throwing sessions.


"When I threw my first bullpen of the off-season, I never felt my bottom half was in sync with my upper half until this year," he says. "My core is so much stronger. My legs are stronger. My hip flexors. Everything is in sync."


Because of his heavy postseason workload, including pitching a complete game in Game 6 of the World Series on three days' rest, some question if his arm will tire late in '04.


"It's not that big a deal," Beckett said. "That late in the season, if your arm isn't in shape by then, it's not going to get in shape. I was fine. I think I showed that. I had great control that day [Game 6], and good stuff. I may have been a click or two off my fastball, but I think that had more to do with skipping my bullpen. We skipped a bullpen because that was going to be the day before I pitched.


"I feel fine now. I'm as strong as I've ever been. I'm in great shape. My bullpens are probably second to none. I've been working hard this offseason. It's a big deal to this team for us [starters] to throw 200 innings. We have five guys capable of reaching it. ... The starters are supposed to take the brunt of the innings."


Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



Beckett is going to be a stud this year. :thumbup

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