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Sarah's Take: Beckett proves his value with no-hitter

Veteran finds redemption, caps extraordinary comeback in brilliant outing

At the end of a disappointing road trip, Josh Beckett gave the Dodgers a memorable day. For the first time in his career, Beckett hurled a no-hitter on Sunday. After everything that he has gone through with Los Angeles, the veteran right-hander should be celebrated more than most pitchers who accomplish the rare feat.

Entering Spring Training, not many people knew if Beckett could perform competitively at the Major League level. This uncertainty prompted general manager Ned Colletti to sign left-hander Paul Maholm as an insurance policy. Beckett felt like he could pitch, even though not many Major League pitchers had successfully returned from thoracic outlet surgery.

The 2013 season was a year to forget for Beckett. When he came from the Boston Red Sox in August '12, he was a savior for the Dodgers' starting rotation, since Chad Billingsley had to go on the disabled list. Despite a lack of run support that often kept Beckett out of the win column, he gave his new team quality starts.

Beckett, 34, debuted in 2001 as a power pitcher for the Florida Marlins. He was a remarkable pitcher, and the Marlins traded him to Boston in '06. Beckett continued to dominate the league, but then his velocity began to decrease. This also led to a drop in numbers after the Red Sox had given Beckett a lucrative long-term contract.

Like many power pitchers, Beckett needed to make adjustments to compensate for his declining velocity. At no time during the 2013 season did Beckett look like the capable pitcher he used to be. His fastball was in the mid-80s, he couldn't change speeds effectively and he had poor control. With virtually no offensive support, Beckett didn't have the quality pitches needed to win consistently. Frustrated Dodgers fans wanted the team to release him.

Beckett, visibly frustrated with his poor performance, admitted that he had no feeling in his fingertips. No pitcher can perform effectively with numbness in his hands. The Dodgers put Beckett on the disabled list after a loss to the Nationals on May 13, 2013.

A doctor in Dallas identified a rib pressing on a nerve that affects Beckett's right arm. He attempted a rehabilitation program to resolve the problem, but it didn't work.

Last July, Beckett underwent surgery to remove the troublesome rib. Although many pitchers have had this surgery, most couldn't return and be effective in the Majors anymore. Everyone feared this with Beckett, but the determined veteran worked extremely hard to return.

From the first bullpen session of Spring Training, reports on Beckett were excellent. His first Cactus League start was much anticipated. Even though it's difficult to tell anything about a pitcher in his first outing of the spring, I knew Beckett was going to be a part of the Dodgers' starting rotation. He had excellent control with his curveball and could change speeds effectively. Despite having a sprained thumb that prevented him from throwing a curveball, Beckett's pitching skills progressed during Spring Training, but the abbreviated period kept him from building up his arm strength.

After one rehabilitation assignment in the first week of the regular season, Beckett made his first Major League start. He didn't do well, and many Dodgers fans demonstrated their impatience by voicing their desire for the team to trade Beckett.

Since then, it can be argued that Beckett has been Los Angeles' second-best starter, though he hasn't won many games due to the poorest offensive support of the starting rotation.

While on the disabled list with arthroscopic knee surgery, catcher A.J. Ellis noticed that no opposing hitter could hit Beckett's curveball. After this, Ellis convinced Beckett to throw more curveballs, and he has pitched magnificently. At the beginning of the season, most people thought Beckett would be the Dodgers' fifth starter and be lucky to win 10 games, but now he could win 15 with better support.

On Sunday, Beckett completed a triumphant comeback from a potentially career-ending surgery. He threw two kinds of curves, one that was hard and tight and the other a slow rainbow. His fastball rarely reached 90 mph, but he completely baffled Philadelphia.

The Phillies hadn't had an opposing pitcher hurl a no-hitter against them in Philadelphia since 1969. Since the rainy night in Colorado on Sept. 17, 1996, with Hideo Nomo on the mound, Los Angeles had not had a no-hitter until Sunday.

Not many pitchers talk about having a no-hitter during the game, but Beckett began mentioning it during the fourth inning. Even though Ellis had the day off, allowing Drew Butera to catch his second career no-hitter, his keen observation about the curveball helped Beckett's outing as he completed a successful and somewhat improbable comeback.

On his 128th pitch of the game, Beckett struck out Chase Utley to end the game. At no time during the game did the veteran righty need a fantastic defensive play to preserve his no-hitter. Beckett's triumph demonstrates once again that a person who works hard can defy the odds and accomplish the impossible.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at [email protected].
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