Lackey's first win since 2011 more than Sox expected

Lackey's first win since 2011 more than Sox expected
April 28, 2013, 7:45 pm
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BOSTON -- John Lackey was activated from 22 days on the disabled list to start the homestand finale against the Astros on Sunday. It would be just his second start of the season, and just his second start since Sept. 25, 2011. The Red Sox were unsure of what they could expect from him. Four, five innings, maybe.
They got more than they expected.
“Honestly, it was better than expected in most ways today,” manager John Farrell said.
Lackey went six innings, giving up one run on five hits and two walks with four strikeouts. He earned the win in a 6-1 victory, improving to 1-1, and lowering his ERA from 4.15 to 2.61.   The win was his first since Aug. 23, 2011, at Texas, a span of 614 days, ending a career-worst stretch of seven starts without a win.
Perhaps the lowly Astros -- owners of the worst record (7-18) in the American League, whose batters have more strikeouts than any other team -- were the right opponent for a pitcher returning from the disabled list.  Still, Lackey made his pitches when he needed to.
“[He] probably gave us more than we anticipated going into the ballgame,” Farrell said. “After that first inning, a lot of two-pitch outs allowed him to be efficient. I think he had a little reach-back in the sixth inning to get out of the bases-loaded, one-out jam. Just a very solid outing for him overall.”
Lackey missed all of 2012 after Tommy John surgery following the 2011 season. In his first start of the season, on April 6 in Toronto, he walked off the mound after his 76th pitch, clutching his surgically repaired right elbow.  Initially the situation looked more dire than it ended up being -- a biceps strain that put him on the DL the following day, until he was able to get back on a mound Sunday afternoon.
“One, it was good to see him on the mound to begin with,” Farrell said. “And then two, just the way he went out and continued to pound the strike zone from the second through the sixth inning, just a very solid day for him.”
“He's done well,” said Stephen Drew, whose two-run triple in the fourth gave the Sox the lead.
“He worked hard to get back to where he's at. It's good to see. It's good to see him hitting his spots and coming back as quickly as he did.”
Lackey’s first real challenge was in the first inning when he faced six batters, needing 27 pitches, just 14 for strikes. He struck out lead-off batter Robbie Grossman.  But with two outs, Lackey issued consecutive walks to Jason Castro and Carlos Pena before giving up an RBI single to Ronny Cedeno. But he limited the damage, as Fernando Martinez flied out to end the inning.
It may have been just shaking off some rust after so much time down.
“Yeah a little bit,” Lackey said. “The first walk I wasn’t that upset about.  He fouled off a couple of good pitches, 3-[and]-2. But the second walk wasn’t good.  That’s  not something that’s going to be very successful moving forward.”
Lackey settled in after that. After giving up a lead-off single to Matt Dominquez in the second, he retired the next 13 he faced before giving up three straight singles in the sixth with one out. But he retired the next two batters, leaving the bases loaded, striking out Fernando Martinez and getting Matt Dominguez to ground out.
“It was fun,” he said, of working out of the bases-loaded jam. “It was definitely a first big challenge in a long time. To be able to get the strikeout and the ground ball to get out of there was a lot of fun, exciting.”
But, he knows there is still work to be done before he can be the pitcher the Sox thought they were acquiring when they signed him as a free agent before the 2010 season.
“Yeah, my arm strength’s not quite back. I missed two weeks without throwing,” he said. “So, I need four or five starts to go out there and really get the feel and full arm strength back.
“The elbow’s fine.  There’s still a little bit of something there [with the biceps] but I need to get out there and build the arm strength. I think that’s all there is to it.”
Still, he knows he’s moving in a positive direction.
“I was relieved probably to know I’m going to get my next start, just to come out of it healthy more than anything,” he said. “ It’s been a long time. It’s nice to still be moving forward.”