FORT MYERS, Fla. -- John Lackey's next-to-last Grapefruit League start was a strong one: five innings pitched, one run allowed and lots of ground balls.
Of the 15 outs he recorded, 13 came on the ground, thanks to an effective two-seam fastball.
"Felt good with the ball being on the ground a lot, for sure,'' said Lackey after the Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 6-1. "It was a good sign for me.''
"The one thing he has going in his favor,'' said John Farrell, "is because he throws on such a downhill plane, on days when he might not have his best velocity, he still has the ability to put the ball on the ground. We saw it tonight on a number of occasions. I don't think we could have anticipated much more coming into camp for him.''
Lackey, who's 17 months removed from Tommy John surgery, is still mostly focused on building arm strength.
"I think he's right where we anticipated he'd be,'' said Farrell. "Typically for a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery, there's going to be some ups and downs with arm strength. But what John has on his side is know-how, what works best for him on a given day.''
"I was pretty sore after my last one,'' said Lackey. "But it was good to throw my bullpen and come back and have another five innings after that. (But) the soreness is a lot better than it used to be (when he suffered from a torn ligament in the elbow). It's sore, but not pain.''
Lackey's fastball was 92 mph and he believes there's room for improvement.
"There'll be more,'' he said. "You put the third deck on the stadium and things happen.''
He has two starts remaining and wants to increase his pitch count and work on mixing in different pitches.
"Maybe to put away guys with two strikes,'' said Lackey, "and throw some different things besides fastballs.''
Another positive for Lackey: he's walked just three hitters in 11 2/3 innings.
"I think a lot of that stems from the re-shaping of his body,'' said Farrell. "It's freed his body up and he's got better body control. He's been more consistent in the outings he's pitched and he repeats his delivery very well.''
After Lackey's five inning outing Thursday night, the starting pitchers have compiled a 2.57 ERA.
"I think they would all tell you that it's spring training,'' said GM Ben Cherington, attempting to put the stat into proper context. "But there's been a lot of encouraging things. There's clearly a purpose to the work, going out and taking certain things into the game, whether it be pace, or aggressiveness within the strike zone. There's been attention to detail in terms of the running game. The general purpose to the work, we were seeing it early in camp and now we're seeing it taken into games.
"I think the pitching overall has been encouraging.''
Cherington was asked to assess Daniel Bard's work this spring. "We think he's a lot further ahead than where he ended up the season,'' said Cherington, "and he's probably still not all the way where he wants to be. But he's sort of in the range of possibilities, he's a lot closer to where he wants to be (compared) to where he was struggling last year.
"I think the nice thing about his spring is that we haven't talked about it as much and he's been able to get in his work and be a pitcher getting ready for the season. There's definitely been a few outings where he looked pretty close and I think he's feeling gradually better about himself all the time.''
Cherington wouldn't say whether the Red Sox disciplined pitcher Drake Britton, who was arrested in Fort Myers several weeks ago on charges of drunk driving and speeding.
Britton, a promising lefty, recently entered a plea of not guilt and is scheduled for another hearing next month.
"We've had a number of conversations with Drake and gone through some things that I'm not going to comment on,'' said Cherington. "But at this time, we don't have reason to believe he'll miss time (because of legal proceedings). There's obviously a legal procession that needs to be worked out. We'll let that work itself out. Certainly, we take this kind of thing very seriously and Drake knows that. We've addressed it with him. "But I'd rather not comment more than that.''