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Mr. Reliable: John Lackey continues ‘reincarnation’ in latest powerful outing

05.29.14 at 12:27 am ET
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The Red Sox face a lot of questions when it comes to their starting rotation. But John Lackey isn’t one of them.

On a day when Clay Buchholz was placed on the DL after a string of rough outings, Lackey provided some much-needed consistency and reliability for the Red Sox on Wednesday night.

With a 4-0 victory over the Braves, Lackey played a crucial role in helping the Red Sox reach two milestones for the first time in 2014: their first three-game winning streak and their first shutout of the season. The big right-hander delivered yet another fine performance, holding a tough Braves lineup to eight hits while striking out nine batters.

It was the third time this season Lackey had fanned nine or more, and in all of those outings, he managed to not allow a walk, something no one else in the American League has done three times or more. With the victory, Lackey improves to 6-3 on the season, and remains the only Red Sox starter with a winning record. He’s posted a 2.27 ERA over his last seven outings.

“It’s been somewhat of a sign that he’s been all year for us,” manager John Farrell said. “[He'€™s had] a number of starts where he’s not walked people. He’s had a very good fastball with some swings and misses, and he had another shutout here tonight. Just a high number of strikes. He was able to get a strikeout in some key spots, particularly to [B.J.] Upton. He set the tone here tonight.”

“€œHe was great,”€ said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. “€œHe had command, keeping the ball down, making pitches when he had to, commanding multiple pitches again, and when John does that, he’€™s pretty tough, especially in this park with the wind blowing in.”€

Lackey has exhibited superb command over the course of his last four outings, allowing just three walks in his last 25 2/3 innings of work. He’€™s walked an average of just 1.8 batters per nine innings, ranking in the top 10 among American League pitchers in that category. A total of 77 of the 105 pitches he threw on Wednesday went for strikes (73 percent), the sixth time he’€™s ended a game with a strike percentage of over 70 percent, and the fifth time that number has been 73 percent or higher.

“€œ[Command is] always important, for sure. You’ve got to locate pitches to good hitters,”€ Lackey said. “I did enough tonight and we played some good defense. I was getting ahead pretty good, throwing a lot of strikes, I was able to mix some things up against a pretty aggressive lineup, a good lineup, and I was just trying to keep them off balance as best I could.”

What stood out about Lackey’€™s performance on Wednesday might have been the fact that all nine of his strikeouts were swinging, and he was able to induce a total of 19 swinging strikes, and out of the 30 cutters he threw on the evening, 12 of them were swung on and missed. The other swings and misses were all on four-seam fastballs. Lackey relied very heavily on those two pitches; he threw his curveball just nine times in 105 pitches.

For a guy who is 35 years old, Lackey is showing some impressive swing-and-miss stuff, and has been relying on a power arsenal to get hitters out rather than needing to be deceptive and use a lot of different pitches. Pierzynski credits this to hard work.

“€œHe works his tail off. I think that’€™s the biggest thing,”€ Pierzynski said. “€œIt’s good when you see a veteran guy able to go out and do what he’s done. It’€™s fun to see. I know he struggled for a couple years and it took him a couple years to come back from his arm problems and now you’€™re seeing the reincarnation at the end of last year and now this year, of a guy two years away from surgery and it looks like he just continues to climb.

“€It’s fun to work with John and it’s fun to be out there and watch him compete,” added Pierzynski, “because he’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever seen.”

Aside from the occasional rough outing, Lackey has provided the Red Sox with some dependability. He’€™s pitched into the sixth inning in all of his 11 outings, and he’€™s held the opponent to two or fewer runs in eight of those starts. But the extra pressure of keeping up that consistency doesn’™t seem to faze Lackey.

“I’€™m going out there doing my best, trying to compete regardless of what’€™s going on. I’€™m trying to perform and help the team win whenever I get the chance,”€ Lackey said. “€œAs a starter you only get 30-something chances a year so you got to respect those and take full advantage.”

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