Josh Beckett was not great. The Dodgers do not need him to be, and that makes for a pretty great situation for the home team.
Think about it. What other team could afford to employ a guy making close to $16 million as a fifth starter, with no shortage of experienced understudies behind him?
In his first major league start in 11 months, Beckett lasted four innings, gave up five runs and got no decision in the Dodgers’ 7-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday in 10 innings.
He was long gone by the time Victor Martinez roughed up Kenley Jansen again. After the Dodgers forced extra innings by scoring three runs in the ninth inning off Tigers closer Joe Nathan, Martinez led off the top of the 10th with a home run off the Dodgers’ closer.
On Tuesday, Martinez hit a two-out, ninth-inning single off Jansen to tie the score; the Dodgers won that game in 10 innings.
Turnabout was fair play for Martinez. He is the Tigers’ designated hitter, but there is no DH in National League parks. So the Tigers used him at catcher Wednesday, and the Dodgers attempted three stolen bases in the first inning alone.
Beckett had his finest moment at bat. He drove in his first run in five years, with a two-strike suicide squeeze.
Two years ago, when the Dodgers and their new owners went hard after Adrian Gonzalez, they agreed to accept Beckett and Carl Crawford as well, in a trade that added $260 million to the L.A. payroll.
Beckett gave the Dodgers seven starts at the end of the 2012 season, after the trade, and eight more last year before surgery.
“I know Josh has had his ups and downs the last few years, but he was one of the elite pitchers in the game just a few years ago,” Dodgers pitcher Dan Haren said. “If he can recapture some of that, it would be a huge help.”
If not, the Dodgers have a comfortable margin for error.
It is not just that the Dodgers have a starting rotation headed by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Grienke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. It is that the Dodgers have invested heavily in the rest of the rotation — Haren ($10 million) at No. 4, Beckett ($15.75 million) at No. 5, Paul Maholm in reserve (up to $6.5 million), and Chad Billingsley ($12 million) working his way back from surgery.
Kershaw started one game before hitting the disabled list. Beckett sat out the first nine games.
“We’re pretty deep,” Haren said. “For the injuries we’ve had and not to have to delve into triple-A is pretty remarkable.”
The Dodgers take nothing for granted. They had eight veteran starters when they opened camp last year, and they had dipped into their minor-league reserve by the end of April.
Still, the Dodgers are so flush with resources that their minor-league pitcher of the year, Zach Lee, did not get a chance to crack the rotation.
In many other organizations, he might have gotten the chance to win a spot in the back end of the rotation — or even come to camp with that spot in hand.
“I don’t want to say he’s not ready, but that’s the beauty,” Mattingly said. “Guys need to develop. He hasn’t pitched in triple-A. It wasn’t like he was 15-1 or something at double-A.”
Mattingly said the revitalization of the Dodgers’ farm system eventually should ease the expensive reliance on veteran pitchers. But Billingsley has lived through the lean years — did someone say bankruptcy? — and he likes what he sees.
“It’s a different atmosphere, all throughout the city,” Billingsley said. “The organization has really changed a lot, for the better.”