John Lackey’s First Spring Outing, Enthusiasm Should Have Red Sox Fans Cautiously Optimistic

John LackeyJohn Lackey looks different, sounds different and, according to the man himself, feels different. That’s enough to be encouraged about the right-hander at this point.

Lackey saw mixed results on Saturday in his first spring training performance after missing all of 2012. He threw 20 pitches — 10 for strikes — in his one inning of work, and he allowed one run, one hit and one walk. He loaded the bases with no outs, but then proceeded to get the next three batters out, with the lone run coming via a sacrifice fly off the bat of Rays second baseman Ryan Roberts.

Lackey’s velocity wasn’t high, and his stuff wasn’t what it was when he won 19 games with the Angels in 2007. But that wasn’t what the 34-year-old was looking for in his first game action since undergoing Tommy John surgery before last season. Instead, he was looking to go out there and get back to the basics, something he actually seemed to relish.

“There’s definitely some for sure,” Lackey said smiling when asked about his excitement level through his first 10 pitches. “It got better as I got a little bit more tired. The ball started coming down a little bit but first couple of hitters, I was up in the zone. I was just going to throw all fastballs today just trying to build arm strength. I think I tried one changeup, that’s it. The rest of them were all fastballs. It’s a little different than throwing on the side, for sure.”

Lackey admitted that he was simply trying to hit the glove in the air in his first start since Tommy John, and he said that he’ll start trying some other things as he progresses throughout this spring training. One thing that was really a change of pace for those who’ve watched the Red Sox over the past three seasons, though, was Lackey’s demeanor following Saturday’s outing.

“I kind of took a second before I went out on the mound and reflected on the bench on the past year and a half,” Lackey said. “It’s been a lot of work and have to thank a lot of trainers, a lot of people that helped me get back to this point. I was excited to be back out there.

“[I was] excited. It was fun. I missed playing baseball for sure. It was good to be back out there. The arm felt fine. I didn’t feel any pain in the elbow. Just keep moving forward.”

Lackey, of course, has been under an immense amount of scrutiny since signing with the Red Sox prior to the 2010 season, not only because of his lack of production, but also because his demeanor hasn’t really been in line with what Boston fans have come to expect from their hometown heroes. Sox fans love players with a team-first attitude who enjoy the game and who are willing to leave it all on the field. Lackey just might have a little bit of that deep down inside, but it has often been overshadowed by visions of him yelling at teammates while on the mound or him being guarded with the media following subpar outing after subpar outing.

Clearly, this is a new John Lackey we’re dealing with in 2013. Whether that means better results remains to be seen, but never has the right-hander seemed so jovial, eager and confident since arriving in Boston. Add that to the fact that he’s perhaps in the best shape he’s ever been in, and that he’s 100 percent healthy, and there are reasons to be optimistic — even if it’s cautious optimism.

So far, it’s walking like a duck and talking like a duck. Saturday gave a few more reasons to believe it may soon be a duck.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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