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John Lackey: ‘Encouraged for sure’ by quality rehab outing

05.31.11 at 10:07 pm ET
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John Lackey

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — The last time John Lackey pitched in a Red Sox uniform, it was May 11 and he had allowed nine earned runs over 6 2/3 innings to raise his season ERA to 8.01. That poor performance coupled with a series of struggles in the season’s early going and perhaps some off-the-field issues as well caused the pitcher to exclaim, “Everything in my life sucks right now.”

But the 32-year-old’s well-pitched rehab start with Triple-A Pawtucket Wednesday, along with his reaction afterwards, told a different story. Over 5 2/3 innings of work, Lackey allowed just one earned run on three hits while striking out four and not surrendering a single walk.

“I felt pretty good,” Lackey said. “I felt like I had pretty good command considering it’s been a while since I faced some hitters. I was encouraged by it for sure. The elbow felt a lot better than it had been feeling.”

The righty, who received a cortisone shot to help ease the pain on the elbow on May 16, even got a little jovial later when asked again about the health of his right elbow, which had been heavily wrapped in ice and bandages moments earlier.

“My elbow feels a lot better,” he said. “Cortisone’s a beautiful thing, I guess.”

Lackey certainly didn’t take it as easy as on that elbow as he possibly could have. After Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler said that the pitcher’s outing would be capped to four innings or 70 pitches whichever came first, Lackey had met his innings limit after throwing only 44 pitches. Management, not the pitcher himself as he noted later, decided that he could go a little longer, and that he certainly did. The big righty finished having thrown 63 pitches, 46 of which were for strikes.

Lackey said that he had thrown a side session three days prior to his Wednesday start, and the fact that his elbow allowed to him to throw with so little time in between was perhaps his biggest relief.

“I’m happy that I was able to throw that many pitches on that little rest,” he said. “It was nice.”

The added bonus of seeing actual batters in an actual game situation didn’t hurt either, according to Lackey. Among those 63 tosses was a solid mix of fastballs, curveballs, sliders and changeups, some of which he had not been able to throw in his previous pitching work while on the disabled list.

Although throwing more breaking pitches was something Lackey had to adapt to on a more recent level, his reintroduction to the minor leagues was another matter. He last made a rehab start in 2009, when he had two starts for Angels Triple-A affiliate Salt Lake after opening that season on the disabled list with a strained forearm. This time around, Lackey doesn’t think he’ll have as much time at the lower level.

“This one’s not a whole lot different because I’m not going to be down here too long,” he said. “I’ve been on the DL before where you’re going to get two, three starts and you progress and work on different things. But today, I pretty much had to treat it like a real game.”

But part of that real game also includes dealing with young, hungry position players who will look to make a name for themselves by getting a hit off the big-leaguer making a spot start. In some instances, that can work in the pitcher’s favor. For instance, Lackey had seven one-pitch at-bats against the Tides, including four consecutive one-pitch at-bats from the third and into the fourth innings, in Wednesday’s contest, a fact that greatly helped him in the pitch count category.

But then again, there’s always the chance that one of those youngsters will jump on a first pitch and drive it into the seats. That’s precisely what happened when 25-year-old centerfielder Matt Angle lifted a 93-mph first-pitch fastball over the right-field fence in the third inning for Lackey’s only earned run. But the big Texan was simply able to shrug off his only mistake as part of the rehab process.

“That’s part of being a big-league guy coming down here, too,” Lackey said. “Young guys kind of like to hack at you.”

As for Lackey’s return to the Red Sox, he would be scheduled to start on Sunday at home against the A’s if the big club decides he’s ready. Lackey said that if it were up to him, he would indeed make the start.

“I think I would,” he said. “I felt pretty good about it. It’s up to them, but I’d be ready to go.”

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