FORT MYERS, Fla. ? Josh Beckett looks a lot like Josh Beckett. The hair is about the same length. He appears to be in very good shape. The arm already showed some pretty good pop on the first morning of workouts Tuesday.
The Red Sox just hope he stays that way.
"The thing I told him yesterday was just to be Josh," said manager Terry Francona. "I think it's easy for him to forget sometimes how much his teammates look up to him, that he can be one of the best pitchers in the league. It?s not always going to be perfect but just be Beckett. Go out there, fight, battle. If it goes good, good. If it doesn't, try and figure out a way to make it work next time.
"I think he tried too hard at times last year and it kind of ganged up on him after awhile, got to be too much. It was hard for him, it shouldn't be that tough."
Not long before he was picked to be the team's Opening Day starter last spring, Beckett, who was coming off a fantastic 17-6 campaign, became a bit ill. He was under the weather for a solid week or so and was still regaining his strength as the regular season approached.
Then, perhaps in a bid to overcompensate for the weakened state, Beckett pushed things a bit too much and hurt his back. With his ERA at 7.86, he missed one start in the middle of May and then attempted to come back on a sloppy night in Yankee Stadium, where he slipped on a wet mound and was forced to leave after just 4 2/3 innings.
The result was two months off to rest the back, two months in which Beckett was forced to look at an ERA of 7.29 and an insignificant 1-1 record.
The right-hander returned to have seven quality starts down the stretch, but it wasn't enough to save what goes into the books as the worst season of Beckett's career. Fortunately, it did, in fact, go into the books.
"2010, it's in the books. It's not going to change,"Beckett said Tuesday afternoon in Fort Myers.
However, he did take time to analyze exactly what it was like trying to get something out of an otherwise lost year.
"You're trying to make up for two bad starts in one bad pitch," Beckett said. "In that aspect, I think that we're all probably guilty of that from time to time, trying to do too much right now when really all you need to do is focus on this start, and not focus on five starts from now or two starts from now or even two pitches from now. In that aspect I think we?re all guilty of that at times, and yes, I do think I was guilty of that at times."
Part of Beckett's return to the basics involves resisting the temptation to throw too many of one pitch, just because he liked the way it felt. That was an issue at times in 2010 when he pumped in several more cut fastballs than in years past, but not always at an opportune time.
Beckett throw the cutter 15.3 percent of the time in 2010, compared to 5.1 percent in 2009.
"I definitely think there were times I fell in love with it and used it in situations I shouldn't have," he said.
Although he has to value the advice from Francona, it was Beckett's father that reinforced that mindset to move ahead.
"It's like my dad said, 'Just throw the rearview mirror away because you can't change anything that?s already happened,'" Beckett added. "As frustrating as 2010 was, you've got to move on. This is 2011."
The 30-year-old Beckett focused on core stability work this offseason to strengthen his back and mid-section. He says he "hasn't found anything yet" when asked if there will be any restrictions and felt great after the first day of workouts, aside from getting hit in the face in the rag ball drill by Francona.
There is an extra motivational tool for Beckett in his quest to return to form this spring. The revamped roster has increased the excitement to a level that Beckett has not seen in his six spring trainings with the Red Sox.
"I feel like this team has a chance to do something really, really special," he said. "I think that's where some of the determination comes from. The determination comes from the kind of guys we have on this team … I?ve never seen so many people here this early."
It all creates for a delicate balance. Beckett wants to harness his excitement for the new year, push 2010 into the past and do both without trying to be someone he is not. He has to just be Josh.