Lackey 'felt great' against Durham Bulls

Lackey 'felt great' against Durham Bulls
March 16, 2013, 4:45 pm
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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Whether it was to avoid facing an American League East rival or – as John Lackey joked – to avoid a road trip, the right-hander faced the Rays’ Triple-A edition at the Red Sox spring training complex while the major league teams played in Port Charlotte.
“I pulled my 10-year card,”  Lackey said, with a laugh, of invoking his veteran’s privilege of staying off the road.
Lackey went five innings against the Durham Bulls, giving up one run on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts. It was the most innings he’s thrown since he went six innings in Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25, 2011, his last start of that season and his last start before Tommy John surgery in November 2011 derailed his 2012 season.
“I felt great,” Lackey said after his outing Saturday afternoon. “I haven’t gone five innings for a long time, so, yeah, I’m sure I’ll be pretty sore tomorrow. But as far as ball coming out of my hand, fastball command, it was pretty good today. I was happy with it.”
Pitching coach Juan Nieves, who stayed behind to monitor Lackey’s outing, was also pleased.
“Being able to get up and down five times and being able to walk out onto the
mound five times, that’s awesome,” Nieves said. “He’s fine. That’s probably the most pitches he’s thrown in quite a while so he’s going to face a little more depth because
he’s going longer into games. His health is fine. The ball is coming out, he was
throwing from 88-92 mph. There’s more in the tank, of course. No restrictions.
His delivery was great. He was able to throw his pitches for strikes.
“It’s tough to go down there and pitch against these young kids. They make you work. They
swing at any fastball in the zone. I’ve seen many guys in the back field getting
hammered. He was able to keep his intensity up. He knows that he’s a
professional. Every challenge he’s faced with he needs to take the bull by the
horns. He’s done that.”
Lackey threw 83 pitches, 48 for strikes.  His pitch count got up in the third inning, when he faced five batters, throwing 22 pitches, 14 for strikes. He had runners on second and third after a lead-off walk, a base hit off his right heel, and a stolen base. But he struck out the next three batters to end the threat.
“Got into a little trouble with a lead-off walk,” Nieves said. “As athletic as he is that ball hit him off the back of the foot and he got a little upset, which I actually
“His command is getting better. It’s a thrill to see a competitor like him out
there. It’s a matter of him working through things. He’s going to have a dead arm,
maybe a little sore. Maybe it won’t be firing the right way all the time, but
his delivery has been great.”
Durham loaded its lineup against Lackey with left-handed hitters. Of the 21 batters he faced, just four hit from the right side, giving Lackey a chance to work on a new pitch.
“Well, I’m working on a new changeup so it’s kind of nice because I mixed that in quite a bit,” he said. “So it was OK for that.
“[The changeup is] a little bit harder, a little more action. It’s almost like a slower two-seam, a little more action that way.
“It’s feeling pretty good.
“I tried to elevate the fastball a couple of times and was able to do that. I was really happy that one I had a couple guys on and I went for some strikeouts and was able to get those. Got some swing and misses on some breaking pitches that was kind of a good sign.”
“We’re trying to incorporate a changeup because he’s always been a fastball,
slider, curveball guy,” Nieves said. “That will play really well against lefties and righties, actually challenging hitters back and forth, which is very important. Best
hitters in baseball are fastball/slider hitters.  Back and forth, same side
In three Grapefruit League outings, spanning 6 2/3 innings, Lackey is 2-0 with an ERA of 8.10, giving up six earned runs on eight hits and three walks with four strikeouts and an opponents' batting average of .320. Still, his confidence is growing with each outing.
“For sure,” he said. “I feel like as far as the rehab, we still got a few more times to go. But up to this point it’s gone about as good as I could hope for.
“I don’t really think about the elbow stuff.  It’s just about fine-tuning pitches and getting ready for the season now. So yeah, it’s definitely more of a normal spring training at this point.”
Lackey is no longer under any injury-related limitations. Now, it’s just a matter of getting ready for the season.
“There are no restrictions on him,” Nieves said. “Even in bullpens. After the last time when he went four innings I gave him the option of having an extra day and instead of
throwing a day after your start, you have off Tuesday and Wednesday. He said
‘No, no I want to work it out.’ He actually threw a great bullpen with a great
number of pitches.”
Lackey, who is set to be the Sox’ No. 5 starter behind Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz – who was in attendance for Lackey’s outing on Saturday -- Ryan Dempster, and Felix Doubront, will likely go five innings again in his next start, expected to be Thursday night against the Phillies, before adding another inning.
He is happy with how the pitching staff has performed this spring.
“Yeah, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself,” he said. “We got some guys that work hard and some guys with some good track records. So we expect to have some good results.”