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John Lackey: ‘I definitely could have pitched better’

02.14.11 at 5:38 pm ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Let’s get this out of the way: John Lackey does not regret his decision to sign a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Red Sox after the 2009 season. To the contrary, as he watched the moves being made by the club this offseason, when All-Stars Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez were added and the bullpen was reinforced with the likes of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, he felt precisely the opposite sentiment.

The big right-hander drew a clear conclusion over the winter.

‘€œPretty cool, huh? I made a good decision,” said Lackey. “One of the reasons you come to a place like this is that they have the capability to do that sort of thing, and they have a chance to win a ring every year. It’€™s really fun to be in a place like that.’€

Of course, by the end of last year, the injury-decimated Sox were not in position to chase that goal. They were left to go home following the last day of a regular season that had yielded 89 wins, a mark that fell short of both the Rays and Yankees in baseball’s deepest division.

Lackey said that he did not spend a great deal of time dwelling on a 2010 campaign in which it was tough to know what to make of him. He finished the year with a 14-11 record. That victories total tied for the second-best mark of his career. He threw 215 innings, his biggest workload since 2007 and the third highest mark of his career. He had 21 quality starts, tied for eighth in the American League and most of any Red Sox pitcher.

However, his 4.40 ERA was his worst since 2004 and his third worst of his nine-year career, and his 1.419 WHIP was the worst of his career. Opponents hit .277 against him with a .339 OBP (tied for the worst of his career), .426 slugging mark and .765 OPS. And while Lackey did have quality starts in nearly two-thirds of his outings, they often seemed to be of the six-inning, three-run variety, rather than a truly dominant performance.

And so, in assessing his season, Lackey identified both reasons for satisfaction as well as areas of improvement.

“I’€™m not saying I pitched great. No, I’€™m not saying that at all. I definitely could have pitched better. That’€™s not what I’€™m saying at all. I definitely could have performed better. I agree with that,” said Lackey. “[But] honestly, I think [the idea that he struggled] was overblown a little bit. I’€™ve only won 14 games once in my life. I think I led the team in quality starts and innings. Whatever. It’€™s kind of what comes with it. … If I’€™d have had that year in Anaheim, I’€™d have had about a three-six [ERA], my normal deal. I probably would have had less wins because they don’€™t score any runs.

“I’€™m not worried about last year, honestly,” Lackey added. “I feel good about this year, and I’€™m kind of moving forward.’€

Though Lackey did not apologize for his performance of a year ago, he has arrived in spring training in the sort of shape that suggests that he’s driven to improve upon his first season in Boston. He spent an hour a day doing cardio work — split into three separate 20-minute intervals on different machines in order to avoid becoming bored — resulting in a noticeable change in his physique. He said that he went from somewhere around 252 or 254 pounds last year to about 241 or 242 this spring. The 32-year-old said that he was driven by a desire to be ready for the rigors of a season that he hopes will last deep into October.

“I’€™m just trying to give myself the best chance possible to stay healthy and maintain a high-level performance throughout the year because I think we’€™re all pretty excited about this season and wanting to be part of it, for sure,” he said.

Lackey is not just in different shape for the coming season. He also has a year of experience as a Red Sox that he hopes will position him to enjoy a different level of success.

There were adjustments that Lackey had to undertake in Boston after spending his career in the American League West with the Angels. There was the matter of familiarizing himself with a new group of teammates and a new city. He had to learn a new coaching staff and establish a rapport with a new set of catchers. And then, of course, there was the residence in the AL East, a division with ballparks that are smaller and far more unforgiving mistakes than the AL West, and with deep lineups that Lackey suggested required “a lot more game-planning.”

Those changes did not come as a shock to Lackey, but the adjustments did not come immediately. In the second half of the season, however, he felt that he began some of the necessary adaptations at the same time that he detected improved arm strength. There was an evident difference in results.

Though Lackey went 9-5 in the first half, he had a 4.78 ERA, just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, 3.7 walks per nine, a WHIP of 1.602 and a ghastly opponents’ average of .298 and OPS of .816. In the second half, his record fell to 5-6, but he had a 3.97 ERA, 7.8 punchouts per nine, 2.3 walks per nine, a 1.216 WHIP, a .253 opponents’ average and .705 OPS against. Those marks represented a building block for what he hopes to accomplish in the coming year.

“I was expecting a little bit of a change [in going to the AL East]. It took some adjustments and I think I made some of those towards the end, for sure. Knowing the hitters, knowing the ballparks, that sort of thing, it definitely was helpful and knowing catchers too was definitely helpful too, working with those guys multiple times,” said Lackey. “I think experience of a year here will help, for sure. I think I did some good things in the second half and hopefully just kind of keep that moving.”

RELATED: Lackey’s wife ‘doing well’ after cancer treatment

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