Josh Beckett is sharp as Dodgers close in on Giants

Josh Beckett is sharp as Dodgers close in on Giants
Right-hander Josh Beckett is likely headed to the disabled list after re-aggravating a left hip injury. The Dodgers are currently waiting to find out if he'll be able to return at all this season. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers completed the first half of their season Thursday night with a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, leaving them with 81 games to make up two games against the first-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

Manager Don Mattingly will take that, considering his team trailed the Giants by 9 1/2 games less than three weeks ago.

"I think that gives you energy," Mattingly said. "We were playing better, but the fact we picked up ground helps you feel better. At this point, we can see the Giants and it's a lot better situation."

But if the pace at which the Dodgers have reduced their deficit has been surprising, the performance of Josh Beckett this season has been downright astounding.

Beckett pitched seven shutout innings in the Dodgers' latest victory, lowering his earned-run average to 2.11, which ties him for third in the majors.

He has pitched seven innings in each of his last three starts. He hasn't given up any runs in his last two.

Last month, he pitched his first no-hitter, and he's now a candidate to represent the Dodgers at the All-Star game.

This wasn't supposed to happen, not at age 34, not a year after he underwent an operation to remove a rib.


Beckett started the season with modest goals.

"I wanted to compete," he said. "That was part of what I missed. I missed the way the guys competed."

Beckett certainly had to compete Thursday, as he went head-to-head with Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who no-hit the Dodgers for five innings.

"Shoot, it was a battle today, a battle of the pitchers," Matt Kemp said.

Beckett downplayed his contributions, pointing to the Dodgers' much-improved defense, which once ranked as the worst in the league.

The biggest play was made in left field by Kemp, who fielded a seventh-inning single by Jon Jay and threw out Allen Craig at the plate. The Dodgers scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.

"My defense really deserves all the credit for this," Beckett said.

But Beckett deserves as much, if not more, credit for the radical adjustments he has made.

Beckett traced his transformation back to his first start of the season, when the Detroit Tigers blasted him for five runs in four innings.

That defeat made him realize he had to change.

"I had to do it," Beckett said. "It wasn't an option."

He recalled telling himself, "We have to make this adjustment or you don't pitch anymore."

As an All-Star with the Boston Red Sox, Beckett threw fastballs whenever he was in trouble. He now finds himself throwing curveballs on 1-0 and 2-0 counts.

"I've been locating my curveball too," Beckett said. "It's not like I'm throwing them down the middle. I'm back-dooring them to lefties and getting them away to righties, getting them out front."

As well as Beckett has pitched, he admitted, "It's a little easier the other way."

He also acknowledged he probably won't be as dominant as he used to be.

"I think if I go seven innings in somewhere around 100 pitches, that's a pretty successful night," he said after throwing 107.

He said he probably doesn't have many complete games left in his arm.

"I don't really see that," Beckett said. "I use more pitches. I get more foul balls because my stuff's not as good. I don't think health-wise it would be ideal for me to throw 115 to 130 pitches in very many starts. I'm trying to battle with what I have to get through six or seven innings."

The Dodgers will take that.