BOSTON — The monster in the Red Sox’ rotation is growing a third head.
Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester have been excellent this season — even despite Lester’s recent stretch of ineffectiveness. But while that 1-2 punch continues to garner much of the attention, John Lackey continues to be a stabilizing force at the back end of the rotation.
Lackey’s 3-5 record doesn’t do his season any justice. Even in defeat, Lackey has consistently given the Red Sox a chance to win, and that’s really all that anyone can ask, especially from a pitcher who was once written off by tons of experts and much of the team’s fan base. On Wednesday, Lackey didn’t factor into the decision, but he once again solidified his status as an integral part of Boston’s pitching staff.
“I definitely take some positives out of it,” said Lackey, who received a no-decision in the Red Sox’ 3-2 loss. “Things happen. I’m going to keep working hard, keep trying to give our team its best chance I can to win and I think I’ve been doing that on pretty consistent basis and [I] really can’t do much else.”
Lackey went six innings on Wednesday, allowing just one run on six hits while striking out five. He didn’t walk anyone, hit a batter and threw 108 pitches (75 strikes). It’s the latest example of Lackey keeping the Red Sox in the ballgame — something he didn’t do for the Red Sox in years past, but is now doing every time he takes the ball.
Lackey has given up three earned runs or less in eight of his nine starts this season. In his last four starts, the right-hander owns a 1.44 ERA (four runs in 25 innings), and his five starts of surrendering one run or fewer are the second-most behind Buchholz (six).
The difference this season, obviously, is health, and it appears that Lackey, who missed time earlier this season, is getting more comfortable with each start.
“He’s a veteran guy with a lot of success and now that the competing with his own body is behind him, yeah, I see that [confidence] growing each time he goes out there,” manager John Farrell said. “And that’s not to say that he doesn’t trust his stuff, but the fact that he’s got added velocity to his fastball with very consistent location, I think he walks to the mound each time knowing he’s got an opportunity to work deep in the game with no runs allowed and I felt even in the offseason this is one guy that had a chance to impact our team as much as anyone and [I] still feel the same and even more so today.”
Lackey’s fastball was up around 94 mph on Wednesday, and that seems to indicate an increase in arm strength. The right-hander showed life on his fastball even in spring training, but he’s maintaining the velocity deeper into games, and his complete repertoire is better as a result.
“Command’s definitely more important [than velocity] but if you have a little more velocity, you’re able to get away with a few more mistakes, so it’s nice to have a little bit extra,” Lackey said. “I felt pretty good with [my fastball]. … It’s come a long way.”
Lackey has come a long way, and he might only be scratching the surface. After all, there was a point in time when he was a very good, top-of-the-rotation pitcher for the Angels. That’s something that often gets forgotten, although not by the man himself.
“I’m definitely happy where I’m at [but] you guys just keep thinking I’m surprised that I’m successful,” Lackey said. “I’ve been pretty good in this league a few times.”
Add this current stretch to the list.