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Thursday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: John Lackey vs. Jeremy Hellickson

07.25.13 at 9:41 am ET
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John Lackey

John Lackey

As the battle for first place in the AL East wages on Thursday night at Fenway Park, it will be right-hander John Lackey who gets the ball for the Red Sox against fellow righty Jeremy Hellickson and the Rays.

Lackey (7-7), the owner of a 2.95 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, will be looking to rebound from his worst start in more than a month — a start that wasn’t even that bad. He allowed four runs on 10 hits in 6 1/3 frames against the Yankees on Saturday, an eventual 5-2 Red Sox loss. Half of those runs scored after Matt Thornton came on with two on and one out in the seventh and couldn’t strand either runner.

Although Lackey showed good control — he walked none, struck out seven and threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes — the outing also featured the end of a pair of lengthy streaks. It marked the first time since June 10 Lackey failed to go at least seven innings, and the second time since May 14 he gave up more than three earned runs.

Manager John Farrell was impressed despite the loss and the lack of success relative to Lackey’s previous month.

“John pitched a very strong six-plus innings for us,” Farrell said afterward. “That seventh inning, things started to back up a little bit on him and I totally understand in these kind of conditions. I felt like where we were in that part of the order, to go to a left-hander was the call, but John was very strong.

“He didn’t issue a walk to contribute to their base hits. They went early in the count on him because he does throw so many strikes. They strung some hits together, but he stayed away from the big inning until they built that three-run lead in the seventh.”

Before Saturday’s outing, the only other two starts in which Lackey allowed four or more runs came against the same team he is facing Thursday: Tampa Bay. In those starts, Lackey went a combined 10 innings and gave up nine runs on 19 hits and two walks. He stuck out just five. Matt Joyce and Evan Longoria both burned him for solo home runs in the latter of the two starts.

Hellickson, meanwhile, has enjoyed far more success Sox in his pair of starts against Thursday’s hosts. In a combined 13 innings, the Red Sox have scored four runs on 10 hits. He walked just one while averaging a strikeout per inning.

Those results are representative of another strong season for Hellickson, 25, whose ERA (4.62) is up but whose K/9 rate (7.3) and K/BB rate (3.45) are both better than his career averages.

One Red Sox who has found considerable success against Hellickson is David Ortiz. In 28 career plate appearances, Ortiz has a 21 percent walk rate, four extra-base hits and an OPS of 1.273.

Rays vs. Lackey (RHP)

Evan Longoria (34 plate appearances): .323 BA/.382 OBP/.613 SLG, 3 doubles, 2 home runs, 5 RBIs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts

Ben Zobrist (33): .407/.515/.519, 3 doubles, 4 RBIs, 5 walks, 3 strikeouts

Luke Scott (23): .333/.391/.810, 4 doubles, 2 home runs, 4 RBIs, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts

Matthew Joyce (21): .333/.429/.667, 2 home runs, 6 RBIs, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts

Yunel Escobar (19): .533/.579/.667, 2 doubles, 1 RBI, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts

James Loney (16): .250/.250/.500, 1 double, 1 home run, 3 RBIs, 1 strikeout

Kelly Johnson (15): .200/.200/.200, 2 RBIs, 2 strikeouts

Jose Molina (14): .167/.286/.167, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts

Desmond Jennings (12): .091/.091/.091, 5 strikeouts

Sean Rodriguez (6): .400/.400/.400

Sam Fuld (3): .000/.000/.000, 2 strikeouts

Jose Lobaton (3): .333/.333/.333

Wil Myers has never faced Lackey.

Jeremy Hellickson

Jeremy Hellickson

Red Sox vs. Hellickson (RHP)

Dustin Pedroia (30 plate appearances): .179 BA/.233 OBP/.357 SLG, 1 triple, 1 home run, 1 RBI, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts

David Ortiz (28): .364/.500/.773, 1 double, 1 triple, 2 home runs, 3 RBIs, 6 walks

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (27): .304/.407/.696, 3 doubles, 2 home runs, 4 RBIs, 4 walks, 7 strikeouts

Jacoby Ellsbury (24): .261/.292/.348, 1 triple, 1 RBI, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts

Daniel Nava (11): .100/.182/.100, 1 RBI, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts

Mike Napoli (9): .111/.111/.111, 4 strikeouts

Mike Carp (7): .286/.286/.286

Stephen Drew (7): .429/.429/.571, 1 double, 1 strikeout

Jonny Gomes (7): .429/.429/.857, 1 home run, 3 RBIs, 3 strikeouts

Jose Iglesias (4): .000/.250/.000, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Shane Victorino (3): .000/.000/.000, 1 RBI

Ryan Lavarnway has struck out once and walked once in two plate appearances against Hellickson.

Brandon Snyder has never faced Hellickson.

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