Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 2/28/13
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It seems almost like yesterday Josh Beckett was overpowering hitters with a high-90s fastball and wickedly effective sinker, helping the Boston Red Sox win a World Series. In 2007, he was an All-Star who won 20 games and finished second in Cy Young voting. He was one of the league's elite pitchers. "Josh basically was Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke and Matt Cain five or six years ago," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. Now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Beckett is transforming his game to face the realities that come with being a big league pitcher at 32 years old. "For me, it's just learning to pitch with what I've got," Beckett said. "Its not going to be like when I was 23. When you're 23, you don't realize you're going to have to go through that change, but pretty much everybody has to if you want to stick around." A three-time All-Star, Beckett seems to realize he's not likely to compete for a Cy Young again. That doesnt mean he can't help the Dodgers win, though. Beckett says he's past caring about his win total or earned run average and has made adjustments to do whatever it takes to be effective enough that the Dodgers can win behind him. For starters, Beckett knows he can't throw a 98 or 99 mph fastball anymore as he did at 27. Between age and injuries, Beckett has lost the power arm that once made him so dominant. For context, Beckett's fastball topped out at 98 mph on Sept. 27, 2007, his last start of the season. On Sept. 30 of last season, his best velocity was 91 mph. Beckett threw his four-seam fastball nearly 40 percent of the time in 2007. In 2012, he threw it 20 percent of the time. Since 2007, he has added a cut fastball and split-finger fastball, relying more on cunning and strategy with a six-pitch arsenal. "Josh can throw the baseball where he wants, he can change speeds with it, he knows how to pitch," Mattingly said, offering a strong vote of confidence. "He's going to get people out." Added Beckett: "It's more about location than anything now. It's not like I'm out there throwing 80 mph. I'm still average. It's not like I'm out there pitching with the stuff I had when I was 11." Beckett, who made his spring debut Tuesday with two scoreless innings on one hit and three strikeouts, has also accepted a new role within baseball's hierarchy. Three seasons ago, he was making his second straight Opening Day start at Fenway Park. Now, he's the Dodgers' likely fifth starter and overshadowed by Cy Young winners Kershaw and Greinke and South Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu. The new place under the radar might be to Beckett's advantage. In Boston, he had baggage. He went from being the ace of a title winner, a status that came with sky-high expectations, to being portrayed as a perpetrator of bad clubhouse habits with questionable priorities. "The stuff that was going on last year, that was just a bad, bad situation out there it seemed like," Mattingly said. "Josh threw the ball good when he got with us. We had no issues with him; he's a great teammate." When Beckett came to Los Angeles last August in blockbuster trade that also brought the Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, he got to leave all the Boston drama behind. Heading into his first full season in L.A. -- he did make seven starts for the Dodgers last year after the trade -- Beckett has a fresh start. "I enjoyed my time in Boston, and I miss a lot of my buddies there," Beckett said. "I miss that, but it's cool to come over to the Dodgers and be part of this." As a pitcher, Beckett's best days are probably behind him. He finished last season 7-14 with a 4.65 ERA. The year before, though, he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA, the best of his career since he became a full-time starter. He was an All-Star and even earned a few Cy Young votes, so he is not that far removed from pitching very effectively. But can Beckett ever be more than a back-of-the-rotation starter again? With health and enough starts this season, it seems reasonable to think that he could be. If Barry Zito, a former Cy Young winner, can win 15 games at age 34, as he did in 2012 after not winning more than 10 in any of the previous four seasons, so too could Beckett. And if such a resurgence happens for him, it will be as a new Josh Beckett. He's done searching for the old one. "Everybody at first is probably searching to get back to where they were," Beckett said. "But I think, at some point, you just have to be like, 'OK, this is who I am going forward.' And I still think I can be a very successful pitcher. "Wins are the most important thing. If I go out and give up seven runs but we win 8-7, I could care less who gets the (individual) win. For me, it's just about being part of helping this team win."
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