BOSTON — John Lackey isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this year. It doesn’t matter.
Lackey proved last season — his first after Tommy John surgery — he’s a very good big league pitcher despite the struggles he endured during his first two campaigns with the Red Sox. The right-hander has carried that momentum into 2014, putting together another strong performance Monday as the Red Sox snapped a three-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park.
“He’s been very good. The last start in spring training and the first two of the season have been powerful (and) they’ve been clean,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Monday’s win. “He’s done a great job of commanding his fastball, he’s been efficient. … To see how he’s come off the Tommy John and to see how he’s carried his stamina throughout nearly 190-200 innings last year including the postseason, it’s a testament to his work ethic.”
Lackey entered 2013 amid questions, as the veteran struggled in his first two seasons and missed all of 2012 after signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract. He silenced even his biggest critics, though, and he’s now viewed as a stabilizing presence in Boston’s rotation.
“All to the credit of John Lackey. He’s reshaped himself, he’s reshaped I think his approach to the game,” Farrell said. “He set out to change a perception that was formed of him over the first couple of years here, and he had to do it first by his performance on the field. Coming back from Tommy John, putting himself in great physical condition, he’s the one who is at the root of that turnaround.”
Lackey answered inquiries about his career renaissance all last season, and he consistently maintained that he knew he still could get the job done. The questions this season figure to be less about Lackey’s revival and more about his start-by-start production, but the results haven’t changed one bit. If anything, he looks even better.
Lackey, who went 10-13 with a 3.52 ERA in 29 regular-season starts last season, is 2-0 to begin 2014. He lasted seven innings while allowing just one unearned run on five hits in Monday’s victory, and it’s clear the 35-year-old intends to be as aggressive as ever this season.
“I definitely want to pound the strike zone. I want them to know that I’m going to throw strikes and if you’re going to get me, you better get me quick because I’m coming after you, for sure,” said Lackey, who threw 65 of his 95 pitches for strikes. “It can work both ways. If you’re not locating well, you can give it up real quick, too, that way. You’ve got to just try to continue to locate and keep pitch counts down and try to get deep into games.”
Lackey’s biggest out Monday came in the seventh inning with runners at second and third. He got J.P. Arencibia to ground out to second base to keep Boston’s one-run lead intact and put an exclamation point on another fine outing to begin 2014.
Lackey’s success no longer is surprising. But it isn’t any less important for the Red Sox.