FORT MYERS, Fla. — At spring training last year, Red Sox manager Terry Francona called Josh Beckett “the leader” of the pitching staff.
The two-time World Series champion’s style of leadership?
“I don’t think that it’s what you say,” he said then. “I think it’s what you do.”
He didn’t do much last year.
Now, after his worst major league season, Beckett’s starting another spring training not trying to make up for what went wrong, just focusing on doing things right.
“Like my dad said, ‘Just throw the rearview mirror away because you can’t change what’s already happened,'” he said Tuesday after Boston’s first official workout for pitchers and catchers. “I’m not trying to change last year. I’m trying to have the best 2011 I can and put this team in position to do what we all think we’re capable of doing. And that’s winning another World Series.”
Beckett joined the Red Sox in 2006 in a trade with Florida, two years after they won their first World Series in 86 years. In 2007, he went 20-7 with a career-best 3.27 ERA and won the opener of the World Series sweep over Colorado, striking out nine in seven innings in a 13-1 win.
But last year, back problems, inconsistency and too much reliance on his cutter made him the worst of Boston’s regular starters. He went 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA in 21 outings. His problems and a succession of serious injuries to key players left the Red Sox out of the playoffs with an 89-73 record.
“I don’t know if embarrassing’s the right word, but, yeah, you’re not happy,” Beckett said. “It’s not a good feeling leaving the season knowing that things could have been better for the whole team if you would have just done your part.”
He struggled from the beginning.
In his fifth straight opening day start, Beckett allowed five runs in 4 2-3 innings in a 9-7 loss to the New York Yankees. The next day, the Red Sox announced that he had signed a $68 million, four-year contract starting in 2011.
Did that add pressure that affected his performance?
“I don’t think so,” he said. “But who knows?”
After his eighth start, he was 1-1 with a 7.29 ERA. And that outing sent his season spiraling downward even more.
Pitching on a wet mound against the Yankees on May 18, he strained his lower back and spent the next two months on the disabled list.
“The back injury happened at Yankee Stadium on that rainy day that we just had to get that game in on,” Beckett said with a tone of displeasure that the game was played in those conditions.
But his problems began even before the season.
“I got sick during spring training,” he said. “I was trying to catch up then and then when I felt like I did get caught up then I felt like I still had to do more.”
Manager Terry Francona noticed. He thought Beckett was trying to make up for poor outings by trying to do too much too quickly.
“I think he tried too hard at times last year and it kind of ganged up on him after a while,” Francona said. “It got to be too much and it was so hard or him. It shouldn’t be that tough but, again, he fought some things physically. He never was able to get on a roll. Now he’s got a fresh start, so let’s use what happened last year to our advantage.”
Beckett made his biggest splash in his second full season in 2003 when he was named MVP of the Florida Marlins’ World Series victory over the Yankees. In the decisive Game 6, he allowed five hits in a 2-0 complete-game win.
But he had three stints on the disabled list in 2004, two in 2005 and two more in 2008.
Then came last year.
“I definitely think I had some stints where I felt good enough to go out and compete better than I did at those times,” Beckett said. “It was a struggle some other times. But things should have still been better than they were.”
Last year’s problems haven’t made him any more determined, he said. The chance for the team to have its best season since he arrived does provide motivation.
“I’ve always wanted to be on a team that won 100 games,” he said. “I feel like this team has a chance to do something really, really special like that.”
The addition of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford add plenty of offense and defense to a team that won at least 90 games five times — with a high of 98 in 2004 — in Francona’s first seven seasons.
A solid comeback by Beckett would strengthen an imposing rotation in which Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, its two youngest members, made the AL all-star team last season. John Lackey has lost weight since going 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in the first year of an $82.5 million, five-year contract. And Daisuke Matsuzaka rounds out the top five, with Tim Wakefield in the wings.
“The sky’s the limit,” Beckett said. “Health is always going to play an issue on that and it does with every rotation. You can have as many No. 1 starters as you want. If four of them go down, then you’ve only got one.”
For now, he said, his back “feels good.”
And he thinks he can be as healthy as he was in 2007, his best season.
“Why not?” he said. “I’m only 30. 30’s the new 20, isn’t it?”