Beckett proving he's still part of plan

LOS ANGELES -- The day the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled the trigger on their historic trade with the Boston Red Sox in August 2012, the talk was about all the money the team was taking on and if Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford could re-establish themselves as All-Star players.

Hardly in the conversation was Josh Beckett. He had fallen from grace in Boston and with more than $30 million remaining on his contract, the Red Sox gladly showed him and his 5.23 ERA the door. He was basically a throw-in piece for Boston, making the Dodgers take that contract off their hands to land the other two players.

Mostly forgotten was that the season before the trade, Beckett posted a 2.89 ERA for the Red Sox, made the American League All-Star team and finished ninth in Cy Young voting.

But the Dodgers remembered. Yes, they took Beckett to land the big chip, Gonzalez, but they never figured the right-hander was little more than a has-been name. They saw Beckett, when healthy, as a key piece to their rotation.

The problem is the Dodgers haven't had much of a healthy Beckett, and until a week and a half ago, he had made only 15 starts for the Dodgers in a season and a couple of months. A surgery that included removing a rib last season partly had him on the disabled list until April 9 of this year -- officially the DL stint was because of a thumb bruise.

Since his return, Beckett has been exactly what the Dodgers wanted, and at this point what they need considering their ace, Clayton Kershaw, is on the DL. Beckett threw five shutout innings, gave up one hit and struck out seven Sunday, beating the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-1, at Dodger Stadium.

Beckett doesn't light up the radar gun the way he did in his early days with the Florida Marlins and Red Sox, but he has become craftier, and in his past two starts has kept hitters off-balance.

"Sometimes I revert back to the guy I used to be," Beckett said. "I still got [good] stuff. It's not like I'm out there throwing 84 mph. I still have the stuff to overpower when I need to, but I have to pick my spots."

His season debut was so-so, but in his past two outings, Beckett has thrown 10 innings, struck out 11, given up three hits and allowed zero runs. He is resembling the "good" Beckett more and more, and if he continues to be this effective, he can solidify this Dodgers rotation as the best in the league as Kershaw nears a return.

Beckett might never win 20 games again or lead the league in ERA, but the Dodgers don't need him to be that kind of front-line starter. They need consistently solid outings, and if his past two starts are any indication, Beckett can provide that.

"You're seeing him adapt to who he is right now," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's putting doubt in hitters' minds. It's two [good starts] in a row, so hopefully he's just building.

"He's still got good enough stuff to win."