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An ‘aggressive’ John Lackey is a good John Lackey

04.08.14 at 12:07 am ET
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John Lackey was zoned in Monday night as he won his second game in as many starts. (AP)

John Lackey was zoned in Monday night as he won his second game in as many starts. (AP)

When it comes to taking the mound every fifth day, John Lackey has learned that he’s best when he doesn’t mess around.

Sporting an early season repertoire that has included more fastballs and less curves, Lackey has been getting ahead in the count and sending a message to hitters — get me early or don’t get me at all. Lackey was efficient, and at times dominating, allowing just five hits and one run, while walking two and striking out five in seven innings as the Red Sox beat the Rangers, 5-1.

“It’s been a lot of fastball action early on. So far, my arm has been feeling pretty good,” Lackey said. “I’ve been challenging guys and trying to get ahead in the count, and A.J. [Pierzynski] called a great game again for me tonight. I was able to get ahead and dictate some at-bats and it makes things go a little bit faster.

“I definitely want to pound the strike zone. I want them to know that I’m going to throw strikes. If you’re going to get me, you better get me quick [in the count] because I’m coming after you for sure. It can work both ways, if you’re not locating well, you can give it up pretty quick, too, that way. Just have to continue to locate and hopefully keep pitch counts down and get deep into games.”

After going six solid innings (90 pitches) in Baltimore on April 2, leading the Red Sox to their first win of the season, Lackey took the hill Monday at Fenway, the same mound that he stood on while clinching Game 6 of the 2013 World Series. Ironically, it was also the last time the Red Sox had won at Fenway after being swept by the Brewers in the home opening series over the weekend.

But if there’s anyone on the staff that knows something about stopping a losing streak, it’s Lackey. He’s been an ace longer than Jon Lester. And on Monday night, the Red Sox needed a pitcher to take the mound who could give the Red Sox a chance to avoid their first four-game losing streak since losing eight straight to end 2012.

Lackey’s fastball has been touching 93 mph, but it’s not the velocity, it’s the command. And he’s been moving the ball all around the strike zone, as was the case again Monday night.

“I throw hard, I don’t throw fast necessarily,” Lackey said. “It’s two different things. I try to be aggressive. I try to make guys make decisions early in the count because I want to get outs as quick as I can. I want to get deep into games.”

Lackey is not the same pitcher he was when he burst on the scene in 2002 with the Angels, when he had a hammer for a curve. He still has the pitch but is much more selective in using it.

“I threw probably more curveballs back then than I do now,” Lackey said. “I didn’t even really have a slider back then. You develop new things as you go on. At this point, I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot with experience and being healthy.”

Lackey’s also been around long enough to know that he can’t just rely on being perfect with his fastball. He’s going to eventually need to mix things up as the season goes on.

“I’m going to need them at some point,” Lackey said. “It’s a tough league. Scouting reports get out real quick.”

Lackey’s true character showed in the seventh when he worked out of a jam he created with two walks. With Alex Rios on third and Leonys Martin on second, Lackey induced a groundout from J.P. Arencibia to end the rally and preserve Boston’s 2-1 lead. He tapped his glove as he came off the mound for a final time on the night.

“That was pretty light for me,” Lackey said. “It was nice to get out of that jam, for sure. I had a couple of guys on in a tight game and to still be winning when you come off the mound. I kind of reached back and let go what I had left. It was nice to get out of it.

“It was a tight game all along. They have a great lineup and had to make some tough pitches to get out of jam there with a couple people on base but got it done.”

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