Lackey changes on the fly to get another win

Lackey changes on the fly to get another win
June 14, 2014, 1:00 am
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BOSTON -- Usually it's at least a couple of batters. Maybe a full inning. Maybe two.

The wait for John Lackey's first breaking ball of the night can drag on like a scoreless drought in a World Cup match. But in Friday's 10-3 win over the Indians, that wasn't the case.

On his fourth pitch of the game, Lackey rung up Cleveland leadoff man Michael Bourn with a curveball. His game-plan appeared to have changed, but it was similar to the one he carried into his start on June 2 -- also against the Indians.

"This is now two out of the last three starts he's pitched against Cleveland," Sox manager John Farrell said. "The first couple of innings tonight, he used a game-plan similar to in Cleveland. That was a lot of breaking balls."

Though it worked with Bourn early on, his opposition caught on quickly. In the second inning, first baseman Carlos Santana seemed to be sitting on a breaking ball when he whacked a 2-0 slider over the visitor's bullpen in right field to take a 2-0 lead.

"That definitely sent up a red flag where he was at, for sure," Lackey said.

In the third inning, Lackey hung another breaking pitch to Michael Brantley which drove home Asdrubal Cabrera to give the Indians a 3-2 lead.

Lackey said he didn't necessarily feel like he was making adjustments thereafter -- just making better pitches. His manager saw it differently.

"They had a good plan against him. Then he started to use his fastball a little bit more in some of those counts he was otherwise using his curveball," Farrell said. "[Then he] sped them up to respond to the velocity. I think he and AJ recognized that. To their credit, they were able to adapt on the fly. That's the vet presence John Lackey is."

For Lackey, the adjustment he admitted to making was getting "pissed" about the Brantley double and trying to let the lead his teammates had built hold up.

From the fourth through the sixth innings, he allowed just two base runners.

"Can't be doing that kind of stuff," Lackey said of the Brantley double. "Need to finish that off. But for the most part, stuff felt OK. They came in pretty hot swinging the bats, they got a good offense. Lot of guys on our side swinging the bats really picked me up tonight and made things a lot easier."

Lackey went 6.2 innings despite needing 58 pitches to get through the first three innings. He threw 110 pitches overall (72 for strikes) and struck out five while allowing seven hits.

With the win, his record was boosted to 8-4 and his ERA sits at 3.24 for the season.

"He's been great," said catcher AJ Pierzynski. "I think John deserves a heck of a lot of credit for where he is. I think his numbers kind of reflect that . . .Thing about John is he might give up a run here and there, but you know he's gonna be in it 'til late. Six-and-two-thirds tonight after a high pitch count early. He settled down and got us into the seventh. That's what starters do, and starters who know how to win, that's what they do." 

Mike Napoli has seen it for years. The two were teammates back in Anaheim, and though Lackey's approach may have changed since then, he's still the same come-at-you righty.

"The way he locates, it's awesome," Napoli said. "I remember back in the day he threw a lot more curveballs, but now he spots his fastball wherever he wants. Just a veteran pitcher that knows how to pitch. He's not a thrower, you know? Always fun playing behind him, he works quick and throws strikes."

And when he needs to change his plan in order to succeed, he can do that quickly too.