John Lackey’s first season in a Red Sox uniform will not go down in the books as his most fluid.
There were many hits (only two American League pitchers gave up more than his 233), several walks (a career high-tying 72) and his highest ERA (4.40) since 2004.
But to call the season a wasted one is way off the mark. Lackey was brought in to produce better numbers than that, but he was also saddled with the task of grabbing the ball every fifth day, eating innings and being that clichéd horse in the middle of the rotation.
If those last three goals are as important as the first few, then the term “success” could actually be tied to Lackey’s name, despite the fact that at times he was a much more hittable pitcher than in years past. He led the team with 33 starts and 215 innings and outpaced his colleagues with 21 quality starts, more than Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka combined.
That alone has won him the respect of his first-year teammates, and the guy who brought him aboard for a pricey $82.5 million.
“He’s a horse who takes the ball and gives you innings and gives you quality innings,” said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who saw Lackey’s improvement after the break as a sign of things to come. “He certainly pitched the way in the second half that we expect and look forward to that carrying over to next year.”
After allowing two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings of an 8-4 win over the New York Yankees in Sunday’s season finale, Lackey finished the second half with a 3.97 ERA, almost a run less than his first half. His season high-tying 10 strikeouts gave him 88 of those against just 26 walks post All-Star break. Prior to the midsummer classic he struck out 68 and walked 46.
The gains were notable and Lackey’s postgame comments reflected as much.
“A learning experience,” Lackey said when asked to assess his first season in Boston. “It was definitely up and down. I feel like going forward I like some of the new tools I’ve added this year with [pitching coach] John Farrell so I think moving forward it’s going to be good.”
Lackey ends the season going 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA over his final three starts. He had some similar stretches through the course of the year, but most were overshadowed but other spans just as bad. And when onlookers noticed the path his career numbers were on, essentially getting worse over the course of the last few seasons, they wondered if the big righty had the stuff to compete in the A.L. East and the difficult market that is Boston.
The 32-year-old was asked about the numbers over and over. He admitted Sunday it was a battle he would not win, but knows he can take comfort in the one category that he rediscovered — he pitched in exactly 33 games from 2003 to 2007, and hit that mark again with Sunday’s victory.
“It’s nice to go home with a positive feeling,” Lackey said. “I feel confident going forward.”