By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Things might just be turning around for John Lackey, and it couldnt be happening at a better time for the Sox.
With both Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester on the disabled list, leaving Boston with a patchwork starting rotation, Lackey has stepped in and stepped up for his ballclub.
The much-maligned right-hander did it again Friday night with seven innings of one-run ball against a Seattle Mariners team that admittedly cant swing the lumber violently enough to navigate their way out of a brown paper sack.
But wins count against those teams as well, and Lackeys teams are 11-2 in their last 13 games against Seattle.
Lackey did what he does best while balancing his season record to 8-8, and pathetic Ms offense notwithstanding pounded the zone with his fastball, change and curveball offerings in the 7-4 victory at Fenway Park.
Sure Lackey allowed eight hits to a terrible group of hitters in those innings, but he also continued a consistently solid body of work since escaping the 15-day disabled list in June.
With Buchholz still unable to pitch off a mound this weekend and Lester not coming back until Monday, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder is now 6-3 since getting a cortisone shot before coming off the DL in early June. Sure there were a couple of stinkers thrown in there against the Blue Jays and Padres that has jacked the ERA up a little bit, but Lackey has been throwing strikes, eating up innings and winning ballgames as he was always advertised to do before arriving in Boston.
Its the recent string of solid Lackey performances combined with the returning injured pitchers that should have the Red Sox looking in another department when it comes to trade deadline upgrades.
The Sox appear pretty set in their starting rotation, and Lackey certainly has had plenty to do with that. The Mariners scratched for a single run in the first inning, but Lackey protected a slim lead before the Sox offense exploded for five runs in the decisive bottom of the seventh inning.
I felt pretty good. Going against Felix Hernandez youve got to pitch well, and I commanded my off-speed pretty well, said Lackey. That might have been my best changeup of the year, so thats been nice. Weve had some guys hurt, and its been nice to step up for sure at a time when weve needed it.
Im just going to go out there and try to win every time I get a chance. I feel good, but Im not going to get too far ahead of myself.
Lackey is 6-3 with a 4.99 ERA in nine starts since coming off the DL, but the bigger number to factor in is the 4411 strikeouts-to-walks ratio for a control-craving righty thats simply challenging offenses to hit him.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has watched Lackey battle the haters and pitch through personal issues this season when pretty much everyone expected the burly righty to fold up the tent. But Lackey has kept on trucking every fifth day on the mound, and thats earned him a wealth of respect in the Sox clubhouse.
While some pro athletes can be looked at as slow healers or guys unwilling to play unless theyre 100 percent healthy, Lackey isnt one of those players.
Hes never lost it. Hes had really bad luck to be honest with you, said Saltalamacchia. Hed go three solid starts and then go 3-0 and then hed have the one bad outing and everybody would write him off and start talking about him, said Saltalamacchia. Thats tough. I cant imagine what hes been through this year, but hes a professional. He grabs the ball every fifth day no matter whats going on around him. He just does his job.
Hes gonna pitch through discomfort. Hes gonna pitch through pain. Thats just what he does. He just steps up. He does an unbelievable job.
Thats the kind of command and daring confidence that Lackey always exhibits when feeling healthy and full of pitching gusto, and thats the guy Terry Francona has seen over the last couple of months.
Hes also the guy he hopes to continue seeing over the final few months of the season with the Sox ensconced in first place atop the American League East.
I thought he was tremendous, said Francona of Lackey. He threw strikes. He really pitched. His stuff to me is the same. Hes been pretty consistent, especially since he came back from the disabled list. I just think he needs to locate. When he doesnt he gives up hits. When he does then he gets guys out. I think its as simple as that.
I know his ERA is higher. I know what it is. Its probably going to be higher than he wants it at the end of the year. But I know if he pitches like this the rest of the year then its huge for us. I think thats what were hanging our hat on. I think he is too. He has an ability to be a really good pitcher and shoulder a big burden Thats what it looks like he wants to do.
The Sox even benefitted from the Texas high school football upbringing that saw Lackey go through double-session practices in 110 degree heat that made Friday nights steamy conditions feel downright comfortable in comparison.
With 96 degree temperatures when Lackey tossed his first pitch against the Ms offense on Friday night, it seems the embattled righty was the coolest guy in the ballpark while continuing to dig his way out of what appeared to be a lost season.
Hes not all the way out yet, but Lackeys ditch isnt getting deeper either.