GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After nearly a year away from the mound and an invasive surgery without much of a track record, it's probably the nicest thing anyone could say about Josh Beckett this spring.
"If I didn't know he'd had anything done or he'd had any problems, it would have looked like a normal Josh Beckett," Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It looks free and easy. It's not like after every throw he's laboring.
"It just looked normal. It looked like just another guy working."
Beckett takes the word "normal" as a compliment. When he tried throwing in the first weeks after surgery to remove a rib and relieve thoracic outlet syndrome last year, Beckett said his shoulder was "unbelievably sore" from the procedure.
That eliminated any thoughts he had about returning to pitch down the stretch or in the playoffs.
"They didn't need me anyway," he says now.
Since then, though, he has progressed through every step of his rehab without any problems.
He threw two simulated innings to a group of minor-league hitters Tuesday morning. After a routine bullpen session in three days, Beckett said he expects to pitch in a game next week. It will be his first game action since May.
"That's exactly what we were hoping for," Beckett said of Mattingly's comment. "I haven't been held out of anything. It's been pretty normal so far.
"Right now, I just go day to day. Every day I feel good, I'm happy."
The Dodgers are taking a conservative approach with Beckett, 33. He has had an extra day off between bullpen sessions and will likely open the season on the disabled list, since the Dodgers don't need a fifth starter until their April 18-20 series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Mattingly has indicated the Dodgers plan to go with a four-man rotation until then.
"It's not like Tommy John (surgery) where you know 15 months later they're pretty much healthy," Mattingly said. "At this point, we really didn't know what to expect (from Beckett). But we have been pleasantly surprised to see him look so free and easy."
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt agrees but holds out a cautious note. Beckett was throwing well last spring too, Honeycutt said.
It wasn't until two or three starts into the season that the numbness and tingling in Beckett's right hand became an overriding issue.
Beckett said he has had no recurrence of those symptoms since the surgery. But after living with the numbness for years, he said there is lingering doubt in the back of his mind about how long this will last.
"It's hard for me not to think, 'When is it going to come back?' " he said. "I've never gone through something like this. I've talked to some guys. I talked to (Dodgers teammate) Brian Wilson, who's gone through two Tommy Johns, and he said those thoughts are normal.
"You can't help but think that after having surgery. Maybe that's just me being pessimistic or whatever. But that's been the hardest thing -- getting over the mental part of it."
KEMP EXAM: Outfielder Matt Kemp is scheduled to have another MRI and examination of his left ankle Friday. Kemp has had the exams approximately once a month since surgery on his talus bone in October.
Kemp has been limited this spring to running on an anti-gravity treadmill, taking batting practice on the field and in the cages, and fielding a few ground balls in the outfield.
Mattingly doesn't know how much more Kemp might be cleared to do after the latest checkup.
"I'm assuming whenever we do get the green light to get him ready it's still going to be a progression," Mattingly said. "Obviously, we're hoping for a good report and help him move forward just mentally. I'm sure he's getting tired of taking BP and not being able to really do anything with the rest of the guys."
CACTUS LEAGUE: The Dodgers open their abbreviated Cactus League schedule against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday at noon. Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to pitch for the Dodgers.
After intrasquad games Sunday and Monday, Mattingly said he hopes to see quick progress now that there will be games daily until the Dodgers leave for Australia on March 16.
"This is not a normal spring training for us," he said. "Starting (Wednesday) in a sense, we're in the middle of spring because we only have 19 games (in Arizona). It's not like we're starting (Wednesday) and we've got 30-some games to play. Starting (Wednesday) we've got 19 games to play and then we play a game that counts. We've had extra days here early, but we've got to feel some sense of urgency, I think, in making sure our minds are right."
--MLB Network announced it would televise both games between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in Australia live at 1 a.m. and 7 p.m. March 22. The games will be blacked out, however, in the Los Angeles and Phoenix markets, leaving SportsNet LA as the only option in Southern California. SportsNet LA is only available to Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks subscribers.
--Left-hander Paul Maholm threw two simulated innings to minor-league hitters. He is back on a normal throwing schedule after experiencing tenderness in his left elbow.
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