Try telling that to John Lackey.
Lackey, who was hurt each of the past two springs and didn’t start the regular season until mid-May either time, has transferred an outstanding March into a beautiful beginning in Boston. He threw 6 2/3 workmanlike innings in a 6-3 win over Minnesota on Wednesday, earning his first victory in a Red Sox uniform.
What has impressed players and coaches is the way Lackey has gone about his business since Day 1. He works quickly. He throws strikes. And he never toots his own horn.
“Got enough big pitches in big spots to get it done,” a humble Lackey said when asked about picking up his first major league win with anyone but the Angels.
When every start begins to mirror itself, perhaps it’s hard to get too worked up. After allowing three measly runs all of spring training, Lackey has yielded just two on 10 hits in 12 2/3 innings so far during the regular season, all coming against two of the top offenses in baseball.
Wednesday saw him struggle just a bit for the first time since he’s been with the club, but that only offered the opportunity for the big righty to display his mettle.
Lackey allowed the leadoff man to reach in each of the first two innings. Those threats were erased by double plays, something manager Terry Francona said Lackey is “always one pitch away from.” A double, a walk and two straight singles led to a pair of runs in the third, ending a scoreless streak of eight innings to start his Red Sox career.
Two more men reached in the fourth but were hung out to dry. Lackey’s fourth walk of the game — he had allowed just three between all of spring training and his debut last Wednesday against the Yankees — put two on with two outs in the seventh. Reigning MVP Joe Mauer was coming up.
Ever the competitor, Lackey was forced to reason with Francona’s decision to remove him from the game. He even did that well.
“I had already faced Mauer three times,” said Lackey, who threw 107 pitches. “Give him a new look. It’s probably a good call.”
Lackey, 31, said he took it easy early in spring training in order to avoid some of the injuries that led to false starts in 2008 and 2009. Last year, after returning from a forearm strain that caused him to sit for two months, he went 1-2 with a 6.61 ERA in his first six starts.
The minor adjustments have paid major dividends, leaving Lackey as the early leader in the race to be called the “ace” of the Red Sox staff.
“Boy, he competes,” Francona said Wednesday. “He’s down in the zone. I thought he threw enough breaking balls in hitters’ counts to keep them off his fastball. He did a terrific job today.”
With how smooth Lackey’s first month and a half have been with the Sox, he figures to put forth another “terrific job” five days from now. That pattern began in early March, even if some think those results don’t matter.