Befuddled John Lackey Can’t Find Consistency Against Phillies


May 21, 2010

Befuddled John Lackey Can't Find Consistency Against Phillies It was only spring training, but John Lackey?s first month in a Red Sox uniform down in Florida was so clean and so crisp that it was expected he would have a strong start to his regular season.

So, when he allowed two runs in 12 2/3 innings over his first two starts and then shook off a rocky outing on Patriots? Day to have three more outstanding outings, Lackey was impressing but not surprising anyone.

But it seems nobody, even the $82.5-million man who was brought in to help stabilize the staff, is immune to the inconsistencies which have plagued the Red Sox? starting rotation since Opening Day.

Lackey suffered through his third straight difficult outing Friday night in Philadelphia, giving up four runs on six hits and a season-high five walks in five innings of a 5-1 loss.

"I haven?t pitched my best by any means, but there?s been multiple things going on here, a little tough luck here and there and a lack of execution a little bit, too," Lackey said before being asked if there is anything he needs to work on before his next start. "No, not right now. I?ve been around long enough. I?ll figure it out."

When he does, Lackey will leave behind a three-start stretch that has seen him give up 15 runs in 18 innings. In that span he has walked 12 while striking out 13.

Both Lackey and manager Terry Francona felt the latest set of free passes were somewhat justified considering the opponent. The high-powered Phillies entered the night ranked sixth in the majors in home runs and third in the National League with a .345 on-base percentage.

"I know he had five tonight. It?s not like he?s wild," Francona said. "Sometimes you have to attribute it to who you?re facing and then the situation of the game when you don?t want to give in. He missed pitches but not by much. Sometimes that?s the difference between having a good line when you?re leaving the game and one that doesn't look like that."

While Philadelphia can present problems for the best of them, the trends within Lackey?s struggles were established earlier in this rough patch. His five free passes Friday gives him 26 on the season, and increases his walk rate to 4.25 per nine innings. The 31-year-old right-hander has never had a rate higher than 3.1 in his career, but it has risen each year since 2007.

Again, Lackey felt OK not giving the Phils too much to hit, and he was pleased that just one of the walks ended up scoring.

"Some of the walks to guys I had, you can?t give in," he said. "You gotta be careful, and I ended up walking a few guys. The walks didn?t really affect me."

However, the concerning numbers go beyond just the higher rate of free passes.

Lackey?s three strikeouts against the Phillies give him just 34 in 55 innings, leaving his strikeout rate at 5.6 per nine innings. That would also represent a career worst and would continue a downward plunge in the category since 2005, when he fanned 8.6 per nine. Given that, his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.31 is not even in the same ballpark as his career norm of 2.67.

Additionally, Lackey has given up seven home runs in his last seven starts, pushing his rate of home runs per nine to 1.1. He has averaged greater than one round-tripper every nine frames just twice in his eight previous seasons.

Is there a reason for such intangibles are a bit less attractive?

"Not really," Lackey said. "I can?t really get into that."

What he can do is trust the stuff that made him look so flawless earlier in the spring and, like every other starter on the Red Sox staff, work through what has become a difficult stretch.

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