John Lackey Shows Signs of Vintage Form, Becoming More Than Just ‘Work in Progress’

John LackeyJohn Lackey is becoming more than just a “work in progress.”

Lackey has made strides in each of his spring training starts. Even when the stat line hasn’t been all that impressive, the Red Sox have at least been able to hang their hats on Lackey’s continued development as he battles back from Tommy John surgery. Improved health and an increased comfort level have really been the two paramount objectives for Lackey this spring.

It still doesn’t hurt when the results are there, though, and Thursday’s start against the Phillies gave even more reason for optimism.

Not only did Lackey look healthy and feature his entire repertoire in five solid innings, but he touched 92 mph on the JetBlue Park radar gun and recorded 13 groundball outs. That’s something that’s a bit reminiscent of the right-hander’s days out west with the Angels.

“The one thing he has going in his favor, is because he throws on such a downhill plane, on days when he might not have his best velocity, he still has the ability to put the ball on the ground,” manager John Farrell told reporters after the game. “We saw it tonight on a number of occasions. I don’t think we could have anticipated much more coming into camp for him.”

Lackey threw 73 pitches (50 strikes) in five innings before departing. He allowed one run on four hits, didn’t walk anyone and struck out one. Even when the Phillies did get on the scoreboard, it was in relatively unimpressive fashion.

Pete Orr singled on a softly hit groundball up the middle with one out in the first inning. Jimmy Rollins followed up Orr’s seeing-eye single with a blooper into left field that Jonny Gomes, Jose Iglesias and Will Middlebrooks all converged on but couldn’t reel in. At that point, Lackey had hardly been hit hard, but it still looked as if Philadelphia was in line for a big first frame.

Lackey did what good pitchers do, though, and he minimized the damage. The veteran escaped the first inning having only surrendered one run by retiring both Michael Young and Laynce Nix on groundballs to second.

Lackey’s ability to bear down after two first-inning hits not only pulled the plug on what had the potential to be a big inning, but it also set the tempo for the rest of his outing. He gave up just two hits from that point on, and there weren’t many pitches that he didn’t execute. The only one that really stands out is a fastball that he left up to Freddy Galvis in the third inning, which resulted in the Phillies second baseman driving a triple into the triangle. Lesson learned.

The overall effectiveness was in large part because of Lackey’s ability to keep the ball down in the zone, leading to the surplus of groundball outs. Lackey’s not going to strike many guys out, but a 92-mph fastball with good command of his secondary pitches should be enough for him to give the Red Sox some decent innings every fifth day.

That’s really what Boston is looking for out of Lackey this season, although with each successful outing, the expectations are rising.

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

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