Who'd have thought it'd be Lackey to the rescue?

Who'd have thought it'd be Lackey to the rescue?
June 26, 2013, 9:30 pm
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BOSTON - Clay Buchholz, their best starter has made exactly one start since June 2 and may not now make another one until after the All-Star break.
     
Their most senior starter, Jon Lester, is in the middle of a dry patch that has seen him win just one of his past seven outings.
     
Felix Doubront has shown himself capable of providing seven innings one start, only to be limited to just five in the next.

The Red Sox are in desperate need of a veteran starter to step forward at mid-season.
     
Who knew that would be John Lackey?
     
Lackey gave the Red Sox seven strong innings Wednesday, allowing just two runs on eight hits while fanning a dozen and walking none in a 5-3 victory over the Rockies. It was arguably the best start of the season and on a short list of the best outings he's had since signing with the Red Sox.
     
And it couldn't have come at a better time.
     
"It seems like, either through injuries or some performances that have been a little inconsistent, we've had some guys step up,'' said manager John Farrell. "And John has been one of the mainstays right now, over thelast month. John led the way today.''
     
In the past month, the Red Sox rotation is a reminder that you don't always get what you expect. While Buchholz and Lester -- who were undefeated through April -- stumble either because of unavailability or inconsistency, the three most reliable starters have been Lackey, Ryan Dempster and occasional drop-in Alfredo Aceves.
     
Dempster, though not always benefitting from strong run support, has given the Red Sox six straight quality starts. Aceves is 3-0 in his last three  spot starts. And Lackey has provided seven quality starts in his past eight.
     
His record is 5-5, but as with Dempster, that number is largely circumstantial. He's pitched well enough to have double figures in wins. Of his 13 outings this season, he's given up three or more earned runs just four times.
     
His ERA (2.99) is more indicative of how well he's pitched and is second lowest in the rotation behind Buchholz.
     
His fastball velocity was 95 mph in the first inning and he maintained a 92-93 mph fastball as the game went along, fanning three Colorado Rockies hitters in three of the first four innings.
    
"I feel like I'm still getting stronger,'' Lackey said. "It's been a  gradual process, a lot of work. And it's still building.''
 
When asked about whether he feels it's time to step in as the staff leader given the rest of the issues in the rotation, Lackey equivocated some.
 
"I'm not worried about those guys at all,'' said Lackey of Lester and Buchholz. "But whatever's happening, I need to pitch well.
 
More than once this year, Lackey has felt the need to remind reporters that, not too long ago, he was an elite starter in the American League. Because his performance has been either ordinary (2010) or downright poor because of  health issues (2011), or missing altogether because of surgery rehab (2011), it's as if people haven't seen the real Lackey in Boston.

In past weeks, it's come through in remarks like "I've done some things in this league,'' or "I've been around a little bit.''

Wednesday, his performance spoke for itself, but still, Lackey felt  compelled to fill in the blanks when it comes to his performance history.

"I've been the guy that's gone on playoff teams, you know?'' he said.
 
And when someone later grouped him with Dempster and pointed out that the two had saved the staff as Lester regroups and Buchholz rehabs, there was that touch of defensiveness again.

"We do have more than two pitchers,'' said Lackey with a bit of a smile. "We can pitch a little bit, too.''

The last time Farrell worked with Lackey, the pitcher was in the early throes of an elbow that would fully surface in 2011, causing him to miss all of 2012 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.

But this new Lackey is actually a lot like the old Lackey -- the one who pitched so many innings -- many of them quality - for the Angels in his first seven seasons in the big leagues.

"He's not competing against his body [anymore],'' said Farrell. "The Tommy John surgery, the rehab, the reshaping of the body....it's almost like we're looking at a different guy in a couple of ways.

"His stuff doesn't tail off as it might have early on when he signed here. He's always been a tenacious competitor and we continue to see that when he walks to the mound. That's much to John's credit -- for all the work he's put himself through, with the surgery and following that.''

To the point where he's now the Red Sox' best starter, at a time when he is desperately needed.