Lackey suffers familiar fate in Arlington

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Lackey suffers familiar fate in Arlington

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- John Lackey's career ERA at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington stood at 6.11 before Saturday night's start.

The fact that that number increased following his outing tells you everything you need to know about Lackey's night, and, with it, how the Red Sox 2011 season is going so far.

Lackey talked a good game in spring training about being in better shape, having better arm strength and experiencing a better feel for his full repertoire of pitches.

But on the mound Saturday for his season debut, there was more of what made his first season with the Red Sox ultimately disappointing: too many baserunners, too many balls in play, and too many big innings.

Lackey didn't offer any excuses this time-- though he hinted that he got squeezed on a pitch to Julio Borbon for what would have been the final out in the fourth. He didn't try to suggest, as he did often last season, that he was the victim of bad luck, or subtly suggest that his defense let him down.

Then again, it was hard to dress this one up: 3 23 innings pitched, 10 hits allowed, 9 runs charged. And of the 10 hits, seven were for extra bases, topped by a grand slam by former teammate Adrian Beltre.

No amount of sugarcoating could cover this up.

Since 2008, Lackey is 2-5 with a 8.39 ERA over 11 starts against the Rangers. In that span, they're hitting .369 against him with 10 homers, which makes you wonder about the team's decision to have Lackey open the season here rather than Josh Beckett.

Of course, it was just one start. But again, the discouraging thing about Saturday was that it was so familiar. In 2010, Lackey seldom was mediocre, despite a won-loss record and ERA that suggested precisely that. His final numbers were, instead, the mean average that resulted from a good number of quality starts -- he led the team, as he pointed out more than once during the spring, in that category -- and another 10 or so in which he was, like Saturday night, abysmal.

There were extenuating circumstances Saturday. Like the Red Sox, the Rangers can lay claim to a formidable offensive lineup. And unlike the Red Sox -- so far, at least -- nearly every hitter in the Texas batting order appears locked in.

Throw in a summer-like night, swirling winds and an already favorable ballpark for hitters and it was a bad cocktail for Lackey.

All the more discouraging was that Lackey thought the start of this season would be different.

"It's definitely not the start we wanted to get off to -- personally or as a team,'' said Lackey. "I expect to do well every time I pitch. It's a shock when something like this happens, for sure. It sucks. But it's one game.''

After allowing a leadoff homer to Ian Kinsler, Lackey seemed to settle down some, retiring seven of the next eight hitters, including three strikeouts in the span of four at-bats.

But the respite was brief. The Rangers began squaring up pitches and driving them all over the ballpark. Baserunners seem to come off an assembly line.

This was the same pitcher who gave up the most baserunners of any pitcher in the American League last year, falling into the same old patterns.

"You just kind of wipe this away,'' concluded Lackey, "and go back to work.''

That's about all he can say or do. But on a night when some were looking for a fresh start for Lackey, he couldn't provide one.

"We've got a long way to go,'' said Lackey.

He was talking about the long season, and how it was way too early to be drawing conclusions. But he could have been talking about himself and how much work he still needs to do.

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

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''