BRADENTON, Fla. – In his second Grapefruit League appearance, facing the Pirates Thursday, John Lackey was scheduled to go two innings throwing around 35 pitches. But after getting through the first inning crisply and cleanly, he threw almost that many pitches in the second inning alone.
Still, it’s all part of the process for Lackey as he continues to make his way back from Tommy John surgery in November 2011. It’s not just about the numbers or the number of pitches.
“We’re looking at a number of things other than what happens inside a given inning,” said manager John Farrell. “It’s the action of his stuff, the command of his fastball. With each outing we’ll continue to build another inning on top of his previous appearance, which we’re doing. I don’t think any of us came into spring training thinking, ‘OK, there’s going to be one outing that says everything is back to John Lackey pre-surgery or anything that he was dealing with.’ So another step along the way.
“I thought he had much better fastball command today than he did five days ago. He mixed three pitches in for strikes today. One breaking ball stayed up in the middle of the plate for him. But I thought today was another progressive step for him.”
In this step, the right-hander needed just eight pitches, six strikes, in the first inning. He got Alex Presley on a soft liner to Jose Iglesias at short, then hit Jose Tabata with a pitch. But he got out of the inning when he struck out Travis Snider, looking, with catcher David Ross throwing out Tabata attempting to steal second.
Lackey opened the second by allowing consecutive singles to left to Brandon Inge and Clint Robinson before he hung a curveball to Jared Goedert, who homered to left for three runs. With one out, Lackey walked Tony Sanchez, then got out of the inning by getting Chase d’Arnaud to fly out to Jackie Bradley, Jr. in center and Presley on a grounder to Iglesias.
Lackey threw 34 pitches in the second, 22 for strikes. In all, he threw 42 pitches, 28 strikes, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk, with one strikeout, and one hit batter.
Although he left with the Sox trailing, 3-1, the Pirates’ shaky pitching ensured him of a win. The Sox sent 10 batters to the plate in both the second and fourth innings, nine in the ninth, and eight in the seventh. The Pirates – who had given up 10 walks in four games spanning 35 innings entering this game – allowed 10 walks in the first four innings, and 15 total to the Sox, as the Sox pummeled the Pirates, 16-6.
Lackey was pleased with the progress this outing represented.
“I felt good,” Lackey said. “Arm felt good and a good step in the process. Added a couple of breaking balls today, threw a couple good ones, hung a couple. But a good step in the right direction
“After the first inning being so quick I definitely needed to throw a few pitches. But it was just more about getting up and down a couple times today. That was probably the biggest key for me.”
The home run to Goedert?
“It was a bad pitch,” he said. “I just hung it.”
“[But] I located my fastball a lot better today. I was down in the zone with that a lot better. Incorporated breaking balls for the first time. It was just kind of a normal spring training day.”
Before his next start, he intends to incorporate his cutter into his repertoire. He’s been working on it from flat ground, but has not thrown if off the mound yet. He likely won’t show it in his next start.
“Probably just work on the curveball a little bit more the next start,” he said. “Fastball command needs to keep coming. These first few [starts] are definitely more about commanding the fastball than the secondary pitches, for sure.”
Lackey knows it will be a long process before he is fully back, with some ups and downs likely along the way. He’s experienced some positives, he said, things he can build off.
“For sure, it’s going to be a process,” he said. “I’ve talked to several guys about their experiences. I’m still looking for a little bit of a feel for sure because it’s been a while. But there hasn’t been any pain and I feel like my arm strength is getting better. So I’m encouraged from that standpoint.
“I understand my delivery. I understand when I feel good. I have some keys in my windup and that sort of thing that I remember and can get back to. So I definitely have some points that I know I need to get to.”