Josh Beckett says he will be ready for the start of the Dodgers’ season after having a rib removed last July to alleviate a nerve condition that was affecting his right arm.
“I don’t have numbness and tingling anymore,” Beckett said Monday.
The right-hander is expected to battle newly acquired Paul Maholm for the fifth spot in the Dodgers’ starting rotation this spring. Beckett, the fifth starter before last year’s midseason surgery, breezed through his first bullpen session Monday in Arizona. He threw 30 pitches with no sign of trouble.
“I’m not tentative,” said Beckett, who reported to camp a day late so he could attend a wedding. “I’m going to throw as hard as I can and see what happens. Right now, I feel great. I’ll throw the ball until I blow out, and I’m hoping that’s not for a few more years.”
The Dodgers’ signing of Maholm on Saturday is considered a hedge against the possibility of further injury to Beckett, a three-time All-Star whom the Dodgers acquired from Boston along with Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto in a 2012 trade.
“Josh is doing really well, but he’s coming off tough surgery, and there’s not a lot of history with that surgery, so we’ll see where things go,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Beckett underwent the same surgical procedure that former St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter had in July 2012. Carpenter went on to pitch in six more games in 2012 — three in the regular season and three in the playoffs. But Carpenter did not pitch in 2013. He announced his retirement in November.
Beckett said he has spoken to Carpenter. He said he was told Carpenter’s nerve condition was more severe than his own. Beckett also said the surgery was more complicated. Dr. Greg Pearl of Dallas performed both procedures.
Carpenter’s experience and advice helped, Beckett said.
“It got me through the mental part,” said Beckett, who was 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA when he landed on the disabled list May 14.
Neck problems and numbness in his right hand had troubled Beckett for the last few years. It got to the point where he learned how to drive with only his left hand. There were times, he said, when he couldn’t feel the steering wheel with his right.
“It’s crazy how simple things become difficult to do,” he said.
The surgery, which also includes removal of some connective tissue, alleviated pressure on a nerve in his neck. Beckett said he never felt any pain, but there were moments when he had no control of his pitches.
“I didn’t know if I was going to throw it over the backstop,” he said. “I had no idea where it was going to go.”
Beckett arrived in camp with his confidence bolstered by three workouts during the last couple of weeks in Texas. He threw off a mound twice, on Jan. 31 and again on Feb 3. Cold weather forced him inside Feb. 6, where he threw 38 pitches off a flat surface.
Beckett has no illusions about the competition he faces in camp.
“It’s just if he’s healthy,” Mattingly said. “Josh throws the ball good. He’s been a quality pitcher for a long time, and he still has good stuff. How he bounces back, we’ll see. We’ve had nothing but positive reports all winter. Josh has never been in the bullpen. Obviously, it’s a competitive situation. We’re not handing anything out for anybody. If he’s healthy, we’ll see.”
Beckett expects to have more time to prepare than the Dodgers’ calendar might indicate. The team breaks camp in Arizona after a March 16 game and travels to Australia for a pair of regular-season games in Sydney against the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 22 and 23.
“I’m probably not going to start Opening Day in Australia,” Beckett said. “They’re paying a guy a lot of money to do that. Not all of us are getting ready for those days. Some of us have a little more time than it appears we do.”