Marlins rookie's growing pain - Tipped pitches

Tuesday, June 4, 2002

MIAMI -- So far this year, Florida Marlins right-hander Josh Beckett has developed four blisters on one finger and an apparent tendency to tip off his pitches.

Other than that, his rookie season is going great.

Beckett will take the mound again today at Philadelphia, hoping to show that the worst drubbing of his brief career last week against the Cincinnati Reds was a fluke. He retired just three batters and gave up eight hits and seven runs, which hiked his ERA from 2.90 to 4.09.

"They were hitting it like they knew what was coming," Beckett said.

That might explain the performance. Recurring blisters on the middle finger of his pitching hand have forced Beckett to alter his grip, perhaps causing him to inadvertently indicate what kind of pitch he's about to throw.

Cincinnati slugger Adam Dunn said Beckett positioned his right hand in his glove differently when he was about to throw a curve. Other Reds hitters said they didn't notice the rookie tipping any pitches, but Marlins manager Jeff Torborg and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg were suspicious.

"It seemed like they knew something," Torborg said. "I stood there that night wondering. They hit everything he threw, including a couple of curveballs inside that they should have been fooled on."

Telling a difference

A friend of Arnsberg's agreed. Former major league catcher Jim Leyritz stopped by the Marlins' clubhouse last week to tell Arnsberg that Beckett positioned his glove one way before throwing a fastball and another way for a curve.

Arnsberg studied game video for over an hour, trying to spot such disparities.

"You can hardly tell the difference on the film," Torborg said.

Florida doesn't want to give last-place Philadelphia any help. Last season the Marlins lost five consecutive games at Veterans Stadium at midseason and never recovered, and their record there is 16-45.

A good outing by Beckett (2-3) would bolster a young rotation that has been the Marlins' biggest disappointment. They rank third-worst in the National League in ERA, and none of their starters has a winning record.

"We've got to get our starting pitching straightened out," Torborg said. "We know we can hit. We know we can run. The key right now is the pitching."

The 22-year-old Beckett has shown flashes of his enormous potential. Despite the rout by the Reds, he has allowed just 41 hits and 18 walks in 50 2-3 innings, with 47 strikeouts. Those are the numbers of an ace, which is what Beckett is expected to become.

But his innings have been limited by the blisters on his middle finger.

"We've got to get it toughened up," Torborg said. "There's a multimillion-dollar arm attached to that finger."

Beckett spent two weeks on the disabled list beginning April 29. But despite the layoff and treatment with pickle brine, uncooked rice and Superglue, the blisters keep recurring.

He said the finger was "a little tender" after his last start but developing a callous.

"It is getting better," he said. "My career is not over, I promise."

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