Lackey shouldering load for Red Sox

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Lackey shouldering load for Red Sox

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.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. White Sox

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Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. White Sox

Finally, the Boston Red Sox have released their lineup, less than an hour before Thursday's game against the White Sox.

They were waiting on Jackie Bradley Jr. to take batting practice before deciding on whether he can play after jamming his finger on Wednesday. He will be in the lineup and he's batting ninth.

The full lineups:

RED SOX
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Brock Holt LF
Ryan Hanigan C
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Henry Owens LHP

WHITE SOX
Adam Eaton RF
Henry Rollins SS
Jose Abreu 1B
Todd Frazier 3B
Melky Cabrera LF
Brett Lawrie 2B
Avisail Garcia DH
Carlos Sanchez C
Austin Jackson CF

Erik Johnson RHP

Felger on Ortiz: ‘He keeps passing the tests’

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Felger on Ortiz: ‘He keeps passing the tests’

Major League Baseball is reportedly set to release more PED testing results, but Mike Felger is growing increasingly more confident in the fact that David Ortiz is clean. He's passing all the tests, isn't he?

McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

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McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

CHICAGO -- It could happen Thursday night, or perhaps sometime this weekend in New York, where he always hits well.
      
But sometime soon, David Ortiz is going to tie, then surpass, Carl Yastrzesmski as the second-greatest home run hitter in Red Sox history.
      
Ortiz hit his sixth of the season Wednesday night, giving him 451 for his Red Sox career, one behind Yastrzemski. Ted Williams is, of course, the Red Sox' all-time leader with 521, safely out of reach.
      
"Know what happens when that's happening?'' asked Ortiz, when told of the approaching milestone. "I'm getting old, man. Like I always say, whenever they mention your name right next to the legends, it's something that, humbly I can tell you, is an honor.''
      
What makes Ortiz's spot on the list all the more amazing is that he has reached these heights after being discarded by the Minnesota Twins some 14 years ago.
      
He arrived as a backup first baseman, initially stuck behind Jeremy Giambi on the Red Sox depth chart. He'll retire, later this year, as one of the handful of best hitters the franchise has ever known.
      
On nights like Wednesday, the context seemed to have Ortiz himself in awe.
      
"I was just a guy who was trying to have a good career,'' said Ortiz, “and put (my) family in a better situation. Now, all of a sudden, these things are happening. It's a blessing.''
      
It's a stretch to suggest that these things are happening "all of a sudden.'' To the contrary, they're the result of a remarkable stretch of 14 seasons in Boston.
     
Only now are the numbers coming into focus. And what numbers they are.
      
Beyond Ortiz's ascension on the all-time lists for the both Major League Baseball and the Red Sox in particular are the improbable feats of a 40-year-old who is performing this season at a level that would be impressive for a hitter a decade younger.
      
Consider:
      
* When Ortiz homered off Yankees reliever Dellin Betances last Friday, he did so on a first-pitch curveball. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated noted that Betances had thrown 355 first-pitch curveballs in his career; Ortiz was the first to hit a homer on one of those pitches.
      
In fact, only six of the first 355 had even been put in play.
      
Ortiz hit his well into the Monster Seats to snap a 2-2 tie and send the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory.
      
* On Wednesday night, Ortiz became the first lefthanded hitter to ever homer off White Sox lefty starter Carlos Rodon.
      
Since last July 2, Ortiz is third among all lefthanded hitters in hitting homers off lefthanded pitchers. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who was being benched as recently as last June against some lefty starters.
     
And what did Rodon learn about that particular showdown?
      
"Don't throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,'' said Rodon.
      
Sounds like a good strategy.
      
It's fairly amazing that a 40-year-old, in his final season, is enjoying all these firsts. But Ortiz has lasted this long, and played at such a high level, precisely because he works to get better all the time.
      
Manager John Farrell noted that Ortiz hadn't faced Rodon before Wednesday night and didn't look particularly good in his first two at-bats, grounding into a double play and hitting a flyout.
      
But Ortiz is forever making mental notes, getting ready to make adjustments and process what he's seen.
      
"His retention is great,'' marveled Farrell. "He understands what he's seeing after just one at-bat.''
      
There's still more than five months to go in the regular season and a lot can happen in that span. But after a month in 2016, it seems likely that we are in the midst of one of the greatest final seasons a player has ever enjoyed.