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Josh Beckett strong in return to mound

Nearly eight months after undergoing surgery to relieve pressure on his nerves, the Dodgers right-hander overcame his own nerves for a successful return to the mound.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE -- Josh Beckett pitched two strong innings in his 2014 Cactus League debut on Sunday as the Dodgers tied the Padres 3-3 at Camelback Ranch.

Beckett was so nervous before his start - his first time facing opposing hitters (i.e. non-teammates) since May - that he had trouble sleeping on Saturday night. Once he arrived on Sunday, Beckett was so amped for the game that he said he felt fully warmed up 25 minutes before the scheduled first pitch.

"I watched him warm up and it was crisp," said manager Don Mattingly. "He was throwing the ball right where he wanted, and he went right out there with it. I'm sure he was excited. It was exciting for us to see it."

None of the nervousness showed on the mound, where Beckett allowed just one ground ball single in two scoreless innings, free of the numbness and tingling he felt in his fingers in 2013.

"I feel good physically. Right now the biggest thing for me is getting over the mental things," Beckett said. "The more time I face opposition, whether it's a minor league or a big league game, when guys are actually up there swinging, it's going to benefit me."

It had been a while for Beckett, whose last start for the Dodgers came on May 13, 2013. He had surgery on July 10, which included removing a rib, to relieve pressure in his nerves caused by Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

Beckett said he developed bad habits with the injury, including dropping his arm slot to more of a three-quarters delivery.

"I slowly started to creep down further and further, not knowing what the injury was," Beckett said. "The higher I got, the less blood supply was getting to my arm and hands."

After studying video from 2007, 2009 and even 2012, Beckett returned to his more traditional over-the-top style. It paid off on Sunday, with three strikeouts in his final four batters faced. Beckett could have pitched a third simulated inning in the bullpen after leaving the game, though he said he has never liked doing that in the spring.

The slower pace of increasing Beckett's innings suits him just fine, as his target readiness date is later than most on the staff.

"It appears we have a certain amount of time getting ready for Australia, but not everyone is going to pitch in Australia, and I think I'll be one of those guys left out of it. We got a couple guys I feel pretty confident can win those games," Beckett said. "I'll probably get more work if I stay here, and that will benefit me."

Thanks to several early off days the Dodgers don't need a fifth starter until April 19, though Beckett surmised he would be ready by the domestic opening day, which happens to be four weeks away. Mattingly provided the perspective.

"It's the first outing of spring training," Mattingly said. "It was a good start, and something to build on."

Up next

The Dodgers have gone one time through their starting rotation, which means Clayton Kershaw is on track to start on Monday in Phoenix against the Athletics. A.J. Griffin starts for Oakland.