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Beckett likely Opening Day starter

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02/29/2004 4:36 PM ET

Beckett likely Opening Day starter

Pitcher will start Grapefruit League opener

By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com Buy tickets



Josh Beckett was 9-8 with a 3.04 ERA in 24 games last season. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)




JUPITER, Fla. -- To no one's surprise, World Series MVP Josh Beckett is a formality away from being named the Marlins' Opening Day starter.


Marlins manager Jack McKeon isn't ready to make that call just yet, not wanting to jump ahead to the April 6 opener when the Expos visit Pro Player Stadium.


But McKeon did say Sunday that Beckett will start in Thursday's Grapefruit League opener against the Orioles at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.


"We're hoping to get three innings," McKeon said. "You figure 15-18 pitches an inning. Something like 55 or 56 pitches."


Beckett, on the brink of stardom, has been impressive in bullpen sessions and live batting practice.


"He's already painting [corners], and it looks like he is holding back some," says outfielder Ryan Christenson, who faced Beckett without much luck in batting practice.


The Marlins are using four starters the first two weeks of Grapefruit League games, and after the March 13-14 exhibition set with the Astros in Mexico City, a fifth starter will be added to the rotation.


McKeon is still tinkering with the pitching order for the first week. Most likely, Brad Penny will start the second Grapefruit League game on Friday, the Marlins' home opener, against the Orioles at Roger Dean Stadium. Tickets are still available for Friday.



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Either Dontrelle Willis or Carl Pavano round out the early rotation.


McKeon is antsy to get into games, noting the first 10 days of conditioning and drills gets tiring and mundane.


"I stressed to the guys who were here last year that this is serious work, and they've been great," McKeon said. "Penny, Beckett and Pavano have been great [in workouts], leading the groups and doing things right. When you get leaders like that, it's great. Guys look up to these guys because they won a world championship. They've been very good. I'm proud of them."


The Marlins' first exhibition game will be Wednesday against the University of Miami at Roger Dean Stadium.


Scheduled to start is right-hander Justin Wayne. Also set to pitch are Mike Neu, David Manning, Toby Borland, Delvin James and Blaine Neal.


Intrasquad lineups set: After a week of practice and drills, the Marlins will get into a game situation Monday with an intrasquad contest beginning at 11:15 a.m. at Roger Dean Stadium.


The game is open to the public and admission is free.


The two managers will be third-base coach Jeff Cox and Triple-A manager Tracy Woodson.


Pitching for Cox's team will be: Nate Bump, Scott Sanders, Matt Perisho, Kevin Cave and Franklyn Gracesqui.


The position players are: Wilson Valdez (SS), Damion Easley (2B), Brian Banks (DH), Josh Willingham ?, Abraham Nunez (CF), Admin Sutton (1B), Jason Wood (3B), Christenson (LF), Chip Ambres (RF) and Derek Wathan (DH).


Woodson's squad will throw: Michael Tejera, Aaron Small, Marty McLeary, Neu, Manning, Borland, James and Neal.


Position players will be: Kevin Hooper (2B), Mike Mordecai (SS), Felipe Crespo (1B), Armando Rios (RF), Lenny Harris (DH), Chris Aguila (LF), Gerald Williams (CF), Matt Treanor ?, Eric Reed (DH) and Josh Wilson (3B).


Neu agrees to terms: Neu agreed to a one-year contract on Sunday, leaving three players unsigned.


All three -- Beckett, Willis and Miguel Cabrera -- are under club control and will be either signed or renewed in a few days.


Fox adding a changeup: Reliever Chad Fox, a hard-thrower with a 95 mph fastball, is working on giving hitters a change of pace.


Fox is working on a changeup this spring to go with his bread-and-butter slider.


Fox was pleased with the results after tossing a successful bullpen session Sunday.


"Giving hitters something else to look for," said Fox, the Marlins' primary setup reliever. "I'll throw it [the changeup] to right-handers and lefties."


Catching up with catchers: There are no shortage of catching options for the Marlins.


Mordecai, who will primarily back up Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, is an emergency catching option. The versatile Mordecai reported with pitchers and catchers and has worked out behind the plate and in the field.


On Sunday, reserve first baseman/outfielder Banks put on the catcher's equipment for the first time this spring.


Banks has caught 45 games total in the Major Leagues, with 40 of those games coming when he was with the Brewers in 1999.


Banks drew an interesting first assignment in Sunday's workouts, catching a bullpen session with Beckett.


"I've thrown out one guy in my career," Banks says proudly.


Banks gunned down Cubs All-Star Sammy Sosa.


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

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