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John Lackey on velocity: ‘There will be more’

03.21.13 at 10:29 pm ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. — In the first inning of a night game against the Phillies, John Lackey‘s fastball registered 92 mph on the stadium radar gun. Would it be possible, he was asked after allowing one run in five innings, for him to enjoy success while working with that velocity?

“There’ll be more,” the right-hander grinned. “There’ll be more. You put the third deck on the stadium, things happen.”

Though Lackey’s fastball sat between 87-90 mph for most of his final innings of work, Thursday night represented yet another promising sign in a spring that has offered a host of positive indicators for the 34-year-old as he works back from the Tommy John surgery that he underwent after the 2011 campaign. In his five innings of work, he allowed just the one run on four hits while striking out one (opposing pitcher Cole Hamels) and without issuing a free pass. Of the 15 outs he recorded, 13 were by groundball.

“We talked about this early in camp, because he can throw on such a downhill plane, on days where he might not have his best velocity, he still has the ability to put the ball on the ground,” said manager John Farrell. “We saw it tonight on a number of occasions. I don’€™t think we could have anticipated much more coming into camp from him.”

The fact that Lackey’s velocity fluctuated during the outing, and that it has had some peaks and valleys during the spring, is an expected part of the recovery from surgery. And so, the fact that Lackey was able to stifle the Phillies both in those innings when he was and was not able to hold his velocity represented a form of encouragement for the Sox.

“I think he’€™s right where we anticipated he’€™d be. We know that there’€™s typical of a guy coming back from tommy john surgery, there’€™s going to be some ups and downs with arm strength,” said Farrell. “The one thing that John has on his side is a lot of experience, some know-how, on what works best for him on a given day.”

Lackey suggested that he remains focused on building arm strength in his final outings. (He has two more scheduled appearances this spring.) As such, even as he’s incorporated the rest of his pitches — a curveball, cutter and changeup — in order to gain some feel for them, he’s still been leaning primarily on fastballs, even in two-strike counts. In his next outing, expected to be a six-inning effort in a minor league game, Lackey said that he might “try to put away a few guys with two strikes, throw some different things besides fastballs.”

Still, while there are elements of his craft on which he continues to work and build the stamina needed for the regular season, Lackey senses increasingly how close he’s coming to being able to not only pitch again in the major leagues but to pitch with health, something he hasn’t been able to do for years. He’s experienced soreness at various points, including after a five-inning start last week, but that normal discomfort associated with building arm strength is “a lot better than it used to be. It’s a good feeling that you got a good work in. It’s sore but not pain.”

It is, instead, a marker of progress on the road back, rather than a pothole. For Lackey, now nearly 18 months removed from his last regular season start, real games beckon.

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