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Familiarity brings futility? Lackey continues struggles vs. Rangers

09.04.11 at 6:59 pm ET
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No one has beaten up on John Lackey in his career more than the Texas Rangers.

Lackey entered Sunday having made more starts (35) against Texas than any other team. He had also suffered more losses to the Rangers (14) than any other team, and his 6.04 ERA against the Rangers was his worst against any American League squad.

Lackey had managed to claim a victory against the Rangers less than two weeks ago in Arlington, allowing four runs over 6 2/3 innings. But while he was able to manage the game that day, it got away from him at Fenway Park in the Red Sox‘ 11-4 defeat on Sunday.

The right-hander kept the Sox in the game through the first five innings, at the conclusion of which the Sox trailed, 2-0. But he needed 87 bullets to make it to that point in the game. And so, when Texas opened the sixth with three straight singles, a wild pitch and a walk, elevating Lackey’s pitch count to 103, manager Terry Francona felt like he’d asked enough of his starter.

The move backfired, as reliever Felix Doubront allowed all three inherited runners to score, along with three more of his own, as the Rangers’ lead mushroomed to 9-0. But Lackey (12-11) wasn’t going to pin his dreadful final line — five-plus innings (his shortest outing since July 4), eight hits, six runs, three walks and a strikeout — on his bullpen.

“Things went south pretty quick. … They have a good lineup, man. They’€™re tough,” said Lackey. “They definitely had my pitch count up quite a bit there in the sixth inning. They got enough of some hits to get me out of there. And then things didn’€™t go real good after that. I didn’€™t contribute to being great. I left three runners out there with nobody out. Felix came in there in a tough spot, especially for a young kid. And to get booed after that, for a young kid, he’€™s going to do a lot of good things here. I felt bad for him.”

Of course, given how much the Rangers have seen Lackey over the years — and the fact that they’d seen him as recently as the series in Texas — his struggles may not come as a huge surprise. Nor, for that matter, was the fact that the Rangers did not seem fooled by what the right-hander was throwing — of his 103 pitches (61 strikes), just three resulted in swings and misses.

“[Facing the Rangers] twice in a week and a half ‘€“ I don’€™t have a whole lot of tricks left,” said Lackey. “You try to change sequences.”

But the Rangers did what they have so often done against Lackey throughout his career, including this year, when Texas has mauled the right-hander for an 11.15 ERA in three starts.

“There’€™s a lot of history there, and there are a lot of guys who have some pretty good numbers [against Lackey],” said Francona. “That doesn’€™t mean that he can’€™t beat ‘€˜em, but they work you pretty good. They’€™re a good team.”

Of course, Lackey’s struggles against the Rangers have not been entirely isolated. On the year, he now has six outings (two against Texas) in which he’s permitted six or more runs, tied for the third-most in the majors. And over his last four starts, he is 1-3 with a 6.03 ERA, his lone win having come against the Rangers.

That — along with a ratio of 16 strikeouts to 13 walks over those four starts — suggests that he is no longer in the same groove in which he had been for much of July and early August. However, asked whether he thought that the final weeks of the pennant race might allow him to regain his stride, Lackey dismissed the idea that the month would have anything to do with his performance, saying his expectations are “to win. That’€™s what they always are.

“Damn thing doesn’€™t change with the time of year. I’€™m going to go out there and compete my ass off and see what happens.”

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