John Lackey’s Start Not Exactly Pretty, But Gauging Success Goes Beyond Box Score

John LackeyJohn Lackey‘s second start of the spring was by no means a masterpiece. But as the right-hander continues to progress physically, one can’t get too caught up in the box score.

Lackey’s stat line wasn’t pretty. He allowed three earned runs on three hits, walked one, hit a batter and struck out one in two innings of work. He tossed 42 pitches, 28 of which were strikes, and surrendered a home run to Jared Goedert, a 27-year-old with zero big league experience.

Again, not pretty. But at this point, it didn’t need to be.

Lackey said after his first start that he was simply trying to get the ball into the catcher’s mitt. It was his sec0nd game action after missing all of 2012 because of Tommy John surgery, so just reaching home plate was a fairly reasonable goal, especially given the mental hurdles a pitcher must clear after undergoing such a serious procedure. More than that was expected of Lackey on Thursday, but even so, we must understand that the right-hander’s focus thus far has been on working his way back to 100 percent health rather than going out and dominating Grapefruit League action.

If Lackey lays the same egg later on this spring, when he has a few starts under his belt and is pitching deeper into ballgames, then it might be a bit concerning. Since Lackey came away from Thursday’s start feeling good about his health, though, it’s hard to get too worked up about his second-inning struggles.

“It’s a good step in the right direction,” Lackey told reporters in Bradenton after the game. “[The return is] going to be a process. I’ve talked to several guys about their experiences. I’m still looking for a little bit of feel, for sure, because it’s been a while. But there hasn’t been any pain, and I feel like my arm strength is better. I’m encouraged from that standpoint.”

Thursday’s start also wasn’t all bad in terms of tangible results. Before the subpar second inning, Lackey needed only eight pitches to get through a scoreless first frame, which he capped off by striking out Travis Snider. As we advance through spring training, Lackey will hope to see more of those types of innings, although it’s encouraging to see that he was able to handle the heavy workload of the second inning without wearing down.

Lackey also featured a more advance repertoire on Thursday than he did in his spring debut against the Rays, in which he threw all fastballs except for one changeup.

“It’s a process. I added a couple of breaking balls today, threw a couple good ones, hung a couple — good stuff in the right direction,” Lackey told reporters. “I located my fastball a lot better, I was down in the zone a lot better, I incorporated a few breaking balls for the first time. It was kind of a normal spring training game, for sure.”

Thursday’s start was certainly another step toward normalcy, although there’s nothing too normal about Lackey’s spring training. Because of that, we must look beyond the box score early on, even if the numbers evoke visions of Lackey’s previous struggles.

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