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

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