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Closing Time: Lackey’s dismal outing leads Sox to loss vs. Padres

06.22.11 at 6:49 pm ET
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John Lackey was never acquired to be an ace. If he would be a very good No. 3 starter for the Red Sox, the team would be satisfied with the return on its five-year, $82.5 million investment in the big right-hander with a big-game pedigree.

Part of the appeal of Lackey was the fact that he was a strike thrower who, based on his history, would minimize his walks and remain fairly efficient against the grinding lineups of the American League East. Yet his performances as a member of the Red Sox — especially in a 2011 campaign that has been, to date, horrible — have failed to match that expectation, a trend that continued on Wednesday in the Red Sox’ rain-shortened 5-1 loss to the Padres.

Unquestionably, the brutal weather conditions did Lackey no favors. Even so, it would be one thing if an outing in which he walked four (including one with the bases loaded), hit two batters (one with the bases loaded) and uncorked a wild pitch (with the bases loaded) were an isolated event. But his command issues have been a recurring theme through his career in Boston.

In his final three years with the Angels spanning 84 starts, Lackey issued as many as four walks in a total of eight games. In his first two years with the Sox, he has now had nine such games in 44 starts. He went from a pitcher who walked 2.6 batters per nine innings over those last three years with the Angels to one who has issued 3.2 free passes per nine as a member of the Sox. Coupled with the fact that his strikeouts have gone down from 7.2 to 6.3 per nine innings, you have the recipe for trouble.

It might have been understandable for such struggles to come against the AL East, but the fact that he could not attack the strike zone against a Padres team that ranked as one of the worst offenses in the majors was more disconcerting. It was a reminder that, as strong as the Sox are from top to bottom, they are a team with flaws, something that is noteworthy at a time when the Yankees have managed to tie them in the division.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–Lackey was a mess. Weather was no doubt a factor as he tried to pitch, at times, through a downpour, but the right-hander couldn’t command his fastball or offspeed pitches, resulting in his brutal line against a Padres team that features one of the worst lineups in the majors.

But, the outing did little to suggest that Lackey is ready to turn around a season that has been little short of miserable. He did elicit seven swings and misses (four on sliders, two on changeups, one on a cutter), but he’s rarely making pitches to shut down rallies, something that has led to big run yields and a lack of innings pitched. Indeed, Lackey has now gone six starts (dating to April 30) without making a quality start (6+ innings, 3 or fewer earned runs); he has met that standard in just three of his 11 starts this year.

At this point, his ERA is 7.36. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings this year, that is the worst mark in the majors.

David Ortiz had a rough game. One night after he went 0-for-5 and grounded into a 5-6-3 double play in the ninth inning of the Sox’ 5-4 loss, the slugger went 0-for-4 with a double play while stranding seven runners. Most notably, his double play grounder with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the first completely changed the complexion of the game.

The Sox were down 1-0 at the time; a productive out would have tied the game and potentially given the Sox a chance to rally for an early lead. Instead, the Padres never had to pitch while trailing.

Darnell McDonald continued to struggle, going 0-for-2 to drop his average to .108 with a .364 OPS. It is becoming increasingly difficult to make the case for him to receive playing time — even against left-handed pitchers — over Reddick.

Mike Cameron collected a hit in his two plate appearances, but he immediately got picked off of first base after singling to lead off the bottom of the fifth.

Marco Scutaro was a late scratch due to illness.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Adrian Gonzalez went 4-for-4 while driving in a run. He now is tied for the major league lead with three four-hit games. He is hitting .359 with a major league-leading 69 RBI. He is on pace to collect 239 hits (which would be just shy of Wade Boggs‘ franchise record for hits in a season, set in 1985) and 151 RBI. No member of the Red Sox has driven in as many as 150 runs since Ted Williams and Vern Stephens accomplished the feat in 1949.

–After Lackey was ineffectual, the Red Sox bullpen was excellent. Michael Bowden (1 2/3 innings), Matt Albers (2 innings) and Dan Wheeler (1 inning) all shut down the Padres over the final 4 2/3 innings. Bowden now has a 1.29 ERA this year, Albers has a 2.86 mark and Wheeler, despite a 6.23 ERA for the year, has a 1.59 ERA in 11 appearances since coming off the disabled list just over a month ago.

Dustin Pedroia went 2-for-3 with a walk, improving his on-base percentage to .390. His average has also climbed to .274, its highest point since he was hitting .278 on April 28.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, David Ortiz, john lackey, mike cameron
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