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John Lackey progresses, likely to pitch in a game (but not in the big leagues) before offseason

08.19.12 at 8:42 pm ET

NEW YORK — Right-hander John Lackey continued to work his way back from the Tommy John surgery that he underwent 10 months ago. He’s been throwing bullpen sessions for at least a couple of weeks, and manager Bobby Valentine suggested on Sunday that his latest session (45 pitches on Sunday in Yankee Stadium) was impressive.

From what I remember of him throwing the last time I saw him and watching him today, it looked like different people and he thought there was a lot different effort, because he was throwing through so much pain in the past,” Valentine said. “I’€™ll bet you there were 35 to 37 of those pitches were excellent. They were thrown with an ease of motion and had perfect location, movement. I was very impressed with what I saw. And after talking to him afterwards, he’€™s feeling really good about his progress.”

Valentine said that Lackey still feels like he has work to do on his curveball, and that he plans to work on that pitch on flat ground. Still, he’s moving forward, and could soon throw simulated innings (with down time between segments of pitches). GM Ben Cherington did not say definitively whether Lackey might or might not pitch in a big league game this year, but given that his five-year, $82.5 million contract includes a vesting option for a sixth year at the big league minimum should he miss a full year due to Tommy John surgery, the likelihood that the Red Sox would rush him back to the majors for a start of a couple of innings before the offseason is virtually non-existent.

While he’s likely not going to be ready to pitch in a game before the conclusion of the Sox’ minor league affiliates’ seasons, Cherington did suggest that Lackey will pitch in a game — most likely, in the Florida Instructional League or some kind of fall league — before going home for the offseason.

“We haven’€™t looked quite that far into the schedule,” Cherington said of possibly pitching in the majors this year. “He’€™s coming on really well. Fully expect him to pitch in some sort of competitive environment this year so that he can go into an offseason and feel like it’€™s a normal offseason. We expect him to have a normal offseason. But I don’€™t know yet when that game is or where that game is. … It’€™s unlikely he would pitch in a regular season minor league game at this point in time.”

In his first two years with the Red Sox, Lackey was 26-23 with a 5.26 ERA before undergoing Tommy John surgery last offseason.

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