Veterans Beckett and Haren making strides

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Dan Haren and Josh Beckett had just finished throwing their first live batting practice sessions of the spring Wednesday morning. They were sprawled out on the grass near the first-base line watching the next pitcher have his turn.

“I said, ‘Did you ever dream you’d be watching a guy with a beard like Brian Wilson pitch with Sandy Koufax standing 10 feet from you?’ “ Beckett said. “Dan Haren’s like, ‘Yeah, it seems like there should be a unicorn somewhere.’ “

It’s been that kind of spring so far for the two veteran pitchers, both working their way back from low points in their careers. Beckett, penciled in as the No. 5 starter, is coming off shoulder surgery. Haren, who signed a $10 million contract to be the No. 4 starter, is coming off the worst season of his career.

Wednesday was an important hurdle for Beckett, who looked perfectly healthy, and another step in the right direction for Haren, who dominated the few hitters he faced.

Beckett, who had a small bone removed between his right shoulder and neck to relieve nerve irritation known as thoracic outlet syndrome, said he continues to worry that the numbness he had been experiencing in his fingers before the surgery will return. It hasn’t so far. In fact, he feels the surgery has allowed him to throw from a higher arm angle, getting more downward thrust on his pitches.

He threw 20-something fastballs and changeups with good command and apparently good enough velocity.

“I don’t think you can help but expect it to come back,” Beckett said. “Basically, I’ve just got to keep riding it out, ride it until it’s not good any more. Mentally, I think this was a big hurdle for me today, bigger than most people think.”

Haren said he is working on the crispness of his pitches this spring and on making any mistakes low rather than up. He dramatically improved his season numbers after the All-Star break last season largely by cutting down on his home runs.

Haren, who has opted out of the spring table tennis tournament because he’s not fond of public appearances, has soaked up having his locker between those of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

“Zack’s a good person to bounce ideas off about pitching and preparing. I’ve talked to Clayton quite a bit, but I’ve just mostly been impressed with how he works really hard, both in the weight room and running,” Haren said. “For being 25 or whatever he is, he definitely has leadership qualities.”