Surprise! Sox pick Lackey to be No. 2 starter

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Surprise! Sox pick Lackey to be No. 2 starter

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Selecting Jon Lester as his Opening Day starter Wednesday wasn't a surprise at all.

But when Terry Francona filled out the rest of his starting rotation on Thursday morning, some eyebrows were raised.

Following Lester in the rotation to start the season will be, in order, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The choice of Lackey as the Sox' No. 2 has to be considered at least a mild upset. Conventional wisdom had either Beckett or Buchholz slated for No. 2, with Lackey projected as the fourth starter.

"I think we feel like Lack has a way of matching up with whomever he's pitching against," explained Francona, "whether it's a guy who's No. 1 or No. 5. You look up in the seventh and you have a chance to win, which we really like.

"Buck did so good, I think we feel like having Buck coming out third just enhances our chance to win a little bit. Buck's numbers would say that he can pitch anywhere. I think Lack's a veteran, he's done it. I just think spacing Buchholz and Lester out, there's something to be said for that, too.

"Lack showed up in great shape and looks like he's ready to go. Ultimately, if they pitch like they should, it's not going to matter. And if they don't pitch like they should, it's not going to matter."

Lackey dropped about 15 pounds this offseason and Francona expects an improved performance for Lackey's second season in Boston.

"I think he's worked hard to get in real good shape," said Francona, "and I think it's going to show. I think across the board, his numbers will be a little bit lower this year."

Francona said the incident in which Beckett was hit by a ball earlier this month and missed a turn didn't impact his decision-making.

"I just think, watching the way last year unfolded, we want to get him off to a good start," said Francona of Beckett. "We'll pitch him the first game in Cleveland on April 5. We think that will be a good place to start."

"Those are Francona's decisions," said Beckett. "Just like I would always feel like he would back me up, I back him up on his decision, as well."

When asked if there was a pride factor involved, since he was the No. 1 starter and now, in essense, is the No. 4, Beckett replied: "It is what it is. I don't get paid to make those decisions. Tito makes those decisions. I don't want that job. I never want that job. I'll let him make those decisions and I'll go out and do the best I can to put us in the best position to win."

With the rotation lined up the way it is, Lackey will pitch the home opener against New York on April 8, with Buchholz and Beckett following him in the three-game series.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Red Sox can't rally against Rays after Chris Archer's start

Red Sox can't rally against Rays after Chris Archer's start

The appearance of Tampa Bay Rays lefty Ryan Yarbrough almost got the Boston Red Sox back in their spring training exhibition game. The Sox managed to score all three of their runs against the 25-year-old in their 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday.

But the Rays, who scored runs in five different innings, managed to widen their lead in the eighth inning by beating up on Sox lefty Luis Isla, a 24-year-old who spent last season with Portland and Pawtucket. In the eighth, Rays' Joe McCarthy homered and Luke Maile managed an RBI single, which cappped off the scoring in the contest. Sox starter Hector Velazquez allowed three hits and an earned run in his two innnings. The 28-year-old, who spent 2016 in the Mexican League, still managed to amass four strikeouts.

"I was a little nervous at the start, being in the United States for the first time and playing for a big league club for the first time," Velazquez told RedSox.com through an interpreter. "But once I got the first out, all the nerves went away, and I was able to bear down."

Despite allowing two homers, Boston pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts.

With the exception of the Sox' inning against Yarbrough, Boston's veterans and prospects struggled mighltily against the Rays pitching staff. Chris Archer started for Tampa, and set the tone in the first two innings, where he threw two strikeouts, one walk and allowed one hit and no runs. Andrew Benintendi (0-for-3), Sam Travis (0-for-2) and Bryce Brentz (0-for-3) went hitless on the day. Travis, however, reached base on balls.

"I felt good. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish," Archer said, via the Red Sox' team website. "Just out there having fun, it was really fun to be out there in the spectrum with the umpire, the fans, the batter. It was fun."

Marco Hernandez's triple got the Sox' eighth-inning off to a strong start, and singles from Matt Dominguez, Deven Marrero, Rusney Castillo and Cole Sturgeon followed. The Sox' eighth inning scoring ended after Castillo got thrown out by left fielder McCarthy at third. Six Red Sox finished with one-hit outings, including Brock Holt and Blake Swihart.

The Sox will next host the St. Louis Cardinals in Fort Myers on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET.