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

Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

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Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

BOSTON - Maybe it wasn't a warning shot, but more of an idle observation. Maybe it wasn't a challenge at all.

But what John Farrell had to say Sunday afternoon about Clay Buchholz was, if nothing else, noteworthy.

In assessing his team's play in the just-completed first month of the season, Farrell noted that the starting rotation, after a particularly rough beginning, had stabilized of late.

With one exception, that is.

"We've got to get Clay going, particularly," Farrell said. "He's an important part of our rotation, an important part of this team. We've got to get him on track." Buchholz is winless in his five starts, with an 0-3 mark and an inflated ERA of 6.51. He's given up a minimum of five earned runs in each start and has yet to pitch through the seventh inning.

Farrell noted that the issue has been less about quality of stuff and more about his aggressiveness - or lack thereof.

"There are times,'' Farrell said, "when we've seen Clay execute pitches with, I think, a greater conviction to the pitch. There are other times where maybe he's pitched away from contact a little bit too much and not attacked the strike zone. To me, there comes an attitude on the mound that's got to be prevailing."

The Sox aren't far from welcoming back to starters. Eduardo Rodriguez, who tweaked his knee in early March, is set to make his second rehab start for Pawtucket Tuesday and could conceivably return five days after that. At most, Rodriguez will be ready with one more additional outing.

Next up is Joe Kelly, who is on the DL with a shoulder impingement. Kelly has thrown some bullpen sessions and could begin a rehab assignment later in the week.

That will lead to the Sox making some tough decisions in the coming weeks. It had been widely assumed that knuckleballer Steven Wright would be he most vulnerable starter, but Wright is 2-2 with a 1.37 ERA in four outings.

Asked to assess where the Sox within the context of the division, Farrell said: "We're probably searching to shore up areas that are in need, and that first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster now. Not that we're going to make wholesale changes. Like I said, we've got to get Clay going. That's a big improvement that we could make."

 

AL East picture through April: Red Sox better than expected

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AL East picture through April: Red Sox better than expected

BOSTON -- With the first month of the season at coming to a close, Boston finds itself half a game behind Baltimore for first place and 2.5 games ahead of the third place Rays.

With the question marks surrounding the pitching staff behind David Price entering the season, among other issues, the Red Sox are in a much better position than initially expected.

John Farrell credits much of the early success to his potent offense.

“[We] finished better than we started I think the biggest thing is that guys in our lineup have developed that trust in one another,” he said. “There [are] some elements to our offense that’ve been very encouraging. The all-field approach and the way we’ve run the bases [have] been very consistent.”

It’s undeniable that the newfound consistency to the pitching staff has been a huge help -- although Farrell did note Clay Buchholz needs to get the ball rolling.

“The last two turns through the rotation has been more consistent. We’ve been able to give our guys in the bullpen a little bit more regular rest,” Farrell said. “I like the fact that we’ve added to the depth of power arms in our bullpen. We still have room for improvement we know that.

Entering the final game of the opening series against New York, the Red Sox and the Orioles are the only AL East teams with winning records against their inter-division rivals.

Even though they’ve performed better than anticipated, a case can be made that the Red Sox should sit in first place.

Tampa Bay shut them out in the opener, and won the final game of the series that was powered by a rare David Price implosion.

Toronto won the final two games of the second season series by the skin of its teeth, narrowly avoiding Red Sox comebacks in the ninth inning of each game.

Baltimore won the first game of its opening series in Boston thanks to a ninth inning home run.

New York has one game left before both teams leave town and, weather permitting, Boston has a chance to start May off properly -- by disposing of the only team in the AL East stuck with single digit wins.

With the ups and downs for the five AL East teams, Farrell doesn’t expect there will be disparity in the division.

“Every team has got their strengths,” he said. “We don’t expect this to be a huge separation among any of the five teams here. We’re all probably searching to sure up areas that we’re in need of. That first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster right now. Not that we’re going to make wholesale changes.”