McAdam: New beginning for Lackey

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McAdam: New beginning for Lackey

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- The pitching line -- 5 23 innings, three earned runs -- wasn't anything that would otherwise get noticed. It was an average start, no more, no less.

But for John Lackey, owner of the line in question, it represented much more. Fifty-nine games into the season, it's a fresh start, a new beginning.

Lackey 2.0, if you will.

Through his first seven starts, Lackey wasn't just bad. He was historically bad, with a 8.01 ERA and four games in which he allowed six or more runs.

The Red Sox placed him on the disabled list in mid-May, with the hope that his elbow would benefit from a cortisone shot and some rest.

Lackey's fastball was regularly 91-92 mph, a slight uptick from his outings in April and May when he often struggled to maintain 90.

"Especially early on,'' noted Terry Francona, "he got his fastball by people and got some swings and misses.''

The biggest improvement Sunday, however, came with his secondary pitches. His cut fastball had more bite and depth and he also spotted his changeup effectively.

"I think,'' concluded Francona, "it worked out pretty well . . . He knows how to pitch. It was what we hoped for.''

Not dominant, certainly, and the command -- two walks, three hit batsmen -- was off. But it was a marked improvement over some of his earlier starts when Lackey turned ballparks into shooting galleries.

"I thought he looked great,'' enthused catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "I think he had better velocity on his fastball. The ball was coming out better. For the most part, his cutter was back to where I remember it being.''

Lackey's last start before his trip to the DL, of course, looked to many to be a man in distress, complaining that "everything in my life sucks right now,'' a clear reference to some off-field issues and the health of a family member.

In that last game, Lackey was a bundle of emotions, gesturing in displeasure when plays weren't made behind him. Sunday, he seemed to be in better control of his emotions, even if his actual control was spotty.

"The elbow definitely felt better than it had been,'' said Lackey. "Physically, I'm going to feel something. It just is what it is in there. But I felt like I was ready to go, ready to compete.''

He also made a subtle reference to being naturally distracted to his personal issues.

"I've just got get back to performing the way I can perform,'' he said. "I can't let outside stuff affect me. I just have to handle my business.''

While Lackey was away, the Red Sox pulled themselves out of their early spinout, reaching .500 and then climbing over it. The lineup ignited. Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves generally filled in admirably. The panic atmosphere disappeared.

With three-and-a-half years remaining on his five-year deal, the Sox weren't about to cast Lackey aside. They could just hope that the downtime helped his elbow, and maybe, cleared his head some.

Off one outing, it seemed to have worked.

Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz constitute the rotation's Big Three. Salary aside, Lackey doesn't have to be a front-of-the-rotation ace. But he needs to give his team a chance to win, which he did Sunday.

"A good place to start, I guess,'' shrugged Lackey after it was over.

Or, more accurately, a good place to start again.

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.''