Dodgers starting pitcher Josh Beckett labored through 83 pitches on Wednesday… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Josh Beckett has changed. The flamethrower has turned into a finesse pitcher. The cocky kid has become polite, even warm.
This would all make for a nice story about a former phenom who is maturing and learning to deal with his age-inflicted limitations. Except for one thing: This 32-year-old version of Beckett has trouble getting hitters out.
Beckett has failed to complete six innings in four of his six starts this season, including Wednesday night in the Dodgers’ 7-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium.
BOX SCORE: Rockies 7, Dodgers 3
Beckett was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth inning, by which time he had given up five runs (four earned), five hits and three walks. His record dropped to 0-4 and his earned-run average inflated to 5.24.
Becoming a breathing batting practice machine appears to be taking an emotional toll on the former All-Star. The potty mouth in him resurfaced as he used expletives on multiple occasions to describe his current form.
“It’s just frustrating,” he said. “I’m frustrated.”
Manager Don Mattingly admitted he was concerned about Beckett, who was acquired last season as part of a trade with the Boston Red Sox that included Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto.
Starting the season without a win and four losses in six starts could put Beckett in a mental hole, Mattingly said.
“You start thinking about climbing out of that and it’s not going to be one start and you’re back to .500,” Mattingly said. “You’re going to have to pitch good for awhile.”
Beckett said he was confident he would emerge from his funk.
“I’ve been in spells like this before,” he said. “A lot of times, it’s just getting back to the basics and making better pitches when those situations come up.”
There was one game this season in which Beckett looked like an elite pitcher. That was on April 14 in Arizona, when he pitched 8 1/3 innings in a 1-0, walk-off loss to the Diamondbacks. But there is mounting evidence that the performance nearly three weeks ago was an aberration.
If the Dodgers still had eight healthy starting pitchers as they did when they opened the season, Beckett’s place in the rotation would certainly be in jeopardy. But with Zack Greinke recovering from an operation on his non-throwing shoulder, Chad Billingsley lost for the season to an elbow injury and Aaron Harang traded to the Seattle Mariners, the Dodgers have little alternative but to wait and hope that Beckett can figure out how to get outs without the benefit of a 98-mph heater.
Beckett improved in at least one facet Wednesday. After giving up eight home runs in his previous five starts, he managed to keep the ball in the park.
Nonetheless, the damage was significant.
Hanley Ramirez, who was making his second start of the season, made an error that allowed Rockies leadoff hitter Eric Young to reach base in the first inning. Beckett loaded the bases when Dexter Fowler singled and Carlos Gonzalez walked.
Troy Tulowitzki doubled in two runs and Michael Cuddyer drove in another with a sacrifice fly to put the Rockies ahead, 3-0.
“You can’t leave your guys out there standing flat-footed in the first inning for 40, 45 minutes,” Beckett said.
The Dodgers closed the gap to 3-2 in the bottom half of the inning on a towering two-run home run by Adrian Gonzalez. The home run was Gonzalez’s third of the season but first since April 13.
Gonzalez nearly homered again in the third inning. With two men on, Gonzalez hit a ball that was on its way to clearing the wall in left-center field until Fowler made a leaping catch. The Dodgers were forced to settle for one run, which came on a wild pitch by Rockies starting pitcher Juan Nicasio, and leveled the score, 3-3.
Beckett worked slowly, taking a long time between pitches as if he was trying to lull hitters to sleep.
“You don’t tend to get in a good rhythm when you’re getting your [expletive] kicked,” Beckett explained.
The deliberate approach worked in the second inning, when he struck out Tulowitzki to get out of a bases-loaded jam.
Beckett couldn’t replicate the escape act in the fourth inning, which Josh Rutledge led off with a double. A double by Carlos Gonzalez later in the inning scored two runs, which put the Rockies back on top, 5-3.
Justin Sellers hit for Beckett in the bottom of that inning. Because the game progressed so slowly, Beckett’s exit came minutes before it hit the two-hour mark.
The Dodgers were forced to use six relievers.
“That’s the double whammy,” Beckett said. “You pitch like crap and you also burn the bullpen. You never want to do that.”
The deficit increased to 7-3 in the seventh inning, when relievers Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario combined to give up a pair of runs.