Sox can't make up for early Lackey trouble

Sox can't make up for early Lackey trouble
August 11, 2013, 7:45 pm
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KANSAS CITY – John Lackey entered Sunday’s game with the lowest run support among the Red Sox starting pitchers.  With the Sox losing the season-series finale to the Royals, 4-3, Lackey’s run support average actually fell, to  4.06 – more than two full runs below Ryan Dempster’s staff-leading 6.36.
 
With the loss, Lackey fell to 7-10 with a 3.32 ERA. He went seven innings, giving up four runs on seven hits, including a home run, and two walks with five strikeouts.
 
In his last two starts Lackey has suffered losses to the Astros, the team with the worst record in baseball, and the Royals, one of baseball’s hottest teams since the All-Star break, with a record of 17-5 in that span.
 
The three runs he got on Sunday would have been enough for a win in his last outing, when the Sox offense was shut out on Aug. 5 in Houston, with Lackey giving up just two runs. His downfall on Sunday in Kansas City was much of his own doing. though. All the runs he allowed came in the first three innings, before he settled down over his final four frames. Alex Gordon’s solo home run with one out in the third proved to be the difference in the game.
 
He and catcher Ryan Lavarnway also combined to allow three stolen bases, with one of the runners – Jarrod Dyson, who stole second in the second inning -- eventually scoring. In his last two starts, opponents have combined for eight stolen bases while Lackey has been on the mound.
 
After Gordon’s home run, Lackey retired the next nine batters he faced, giving up just two singles in his final four innings, before giving way to left-hander Drake Britton in the eighth.
 
“We had some opportunities early,” said manager John Farrell. “We hit some balls that didn’t find holes, and on the flip side [the Royals] did find some holes, with the exception of Gordon, early on. John took an inning or two to find his rhythm, his release point. They were able to take advantage on some stolen bases. But he settled in and gave us seven solid innings.”
 
“Grinding everything out,” Lackey said. “Wasn’t feeling that great, just missing some locations. Got a couple of 3-2 counts and got a little trouble in the first and was lucky to get a ground ball and double play to get out of that one. Did some things later in the game and got into a groove a little bit. [Royals right-hander] Shields pitched pretty good so it was tough.”

Lackey suffered a sprained ankle in his last start, fielding a grounder to end the second inning. The ankle, though, was not an issue in his outing Sunday.
 
“They had it taped up so much I’d have to break my whole leg to roll it again,” he said. “It didn’t have anything to do with it.”
 
“Based on his bullpen, I don’t think there was an effect,” Farrell said. “He was sharp in the bullpen, came out and had some difficulty finding the strike zone with the first two walks of the game. Then we get the groundball double play and seemingly he’s on his way. But then they force him to throw some pitches in the first couple of innings. But I can’t say the ankle had an adverse effect to the way he was throwing the ball today.”
 
The two lead-off walks were the only ones Lackey allowed in the game.

“It’s unusual for me to walk two people anytime let alone in the first inning,” he said.
 
He was able to settle in over his final four innings, with just two singles in the sixth. But by that point the Royals had done enough damage and Shields, along with the KC bullpen, held off the Sox offense.
 
“More strikes,” Farrell noted as the key. “He started to release a little bit more and had the ability to do that just because he was working ahead in the count better. Early on he was fighting to get back in the count and it was just more consistent strikes from that point on.”
 
“Third inning was pretty good just the one pitch [to Gordon],” Lackey said. “I was throwing strikes quite a bit mixing things up, pretty good after the second inning.”

Lackey is known to have a slow release to the plate. A talent evaluator recently noted it is one of the slowest in the league. Lackey and the Sox are aware of the issue, and trying to rectify it.
 
“It’s something that we’re working on to get better," Farrell said. “John recognizes it. Certain things are more comfortable for other pitchers. We’ve got to continue to vary up his hold times so he’s not so predictable and let baserunners time him up. But execution of strikes is the priority, and at the same time he’s aware of the running game.”
 
“In low-scoring games it can be a factor, for sure,” Lackey said. “There are a lot of things that go into that. You don’t want the runner on base [but that] is not as important as making a pitch.”