The Boston Globe's Red Sox insider Peter Abraham told NESN today that Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka are among the earliest arrivals to spring training for Boston.
He cited, in each player, their improved physical condition. With that, Red Sox Nation sighs a collective breath of relief.
Abraham went on to report that Lackey had lost as much as 15 pounds this offseason, while Beckett and Matsuzaka were all looking noticeably slim.
While Lackey was never hurt in 2010, he certainly struggled with his performance and game-to-game consistency (14-11, 4.40 ERA, 1.42 WHIP). Beckett and Matsuzaka both struggled with injury, combining for just 46 of the team's starts and an ERA well over 5.00.
GM Theo Epstein was quoted in Abraham's report regarding the status of all three: "I think it indicates they're highly motivated and feel good about the winters that they just had...the guys who had really good winters and want to show off the shape that they're in and the progress that they've made, they show up early."
"It's nice to see these guys out here. Every single one of them looks in improved condition."
Physical shape is no small matter, especially when pitching in a high leverage market like Boston. We've seen guys like Beckett and Matsuzaka struggle with the consistency of both their on-field performance and their ability to stay on the field itself.
If both of these guys are in peak physical condition, it should do wonders for both their overall performance and mental psyche, getting off to a fast start and maintaining a high level of success will rally Red Sox Nation behind a player, and vice versa.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, most notably, has a history of failing to arrive healthy to camp. In 2009, he appeared in just 12 games after suffering a shoulder strain related to his work with Japan in the World Baseball Classic.
In 2010, he suffered back, shoulder, and neck injuries early on and was limited to just 25 starts.
Beckett also struggled with injury last season, appearing in a career-low 21 games.
There are few in baseball who question Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz at the top of the Red Sox rotation. Both are young and on the rise, finishing in the Cy Young conversation last season. The biggest question coming into 2011 was how the rest of the rotation would shape out.
While the Red Sox haven't yet answered that question, they've taken a huge step in the right direction. It seems as if Beckett, Lackey, and Daisuke are all making the personal sacrifices necessary to the team's success.