The Red Sox will break camp with 25 players heading north to Boston. We begin a daily look at each position on the club, from the projected starters to their backups. Our latest installment examines John Lackey.
It doesn't take an expert in reading body language to see a change in John Lackey this year.
Entering his second season with the Red Sox, Lackey looks much more at ease in the clubhouse, on the field and with his teammates, both new and old.
Not that he was timid or awkward in 2010, but there was an adjustment period to a new city and a new team. That all seems a thing of the past for a slimmer, smiling Lackey.
"It's a lot easier [this year]," Lackey said recently in camp. "I know everybody?s name already this year. It?s a lot nicer this year just to be welcomed back instead of trying to learn everything."
The sight of Lackey laughing it up with his fellow starters has been a common one this spring. And not only is that comfort level up, but so are his expectations. On top of the adjustments he had to make, the 32-year-old had some issues building up his arm strength last year. Once he felt more like himself, learned the American League East lineups and became more accustomed to the parks, he lowered his ERA to 3.97 in the second half (after a 4.78 mark before the All-Star break) and had quality starts in 10 of his last 15 outings.
While the season as a whole may not have been up to snuff for some Sox fans, it had its fair share of positives for Lackey.
"I?ve only won 14 games before once in my life," he said about going 14-11. "I think I led the team in quality starts and innings."
He did, a point not lost on those charged with giving Lackey the ball every fifth day.
"We wanted him to be able to answer the bell and he gave us the innings," manager Terry Francona said. "His stuff was pretty consistent across the board all season, I just think he executed his pitches [in the second half]. He was able to get that last out of an inning the last two months of the season."
Lackey came into camp roughly 12 pounds lighter than he was at the close of the 2010 campaign. He used a new cardio regimen that had him revolving from machine to machine for one intense hour every day this offseason. His motivation to get into better shape came from within, he said, an effort to ensure he will be one of the horses again in 2011.
Coinciding with the many major additions that Boston made, it has him looking at 2011 with an extremely optimistic view.
"I made a good decision [to come here]," he said.
For the fourth straight day, we have to mention Tim Wakefield here. However, Alfredo Aceves is being seen in a pretty positive light these days. Consider these words from Francona on Saturday:
"Aceves is at this point a good story?His stuff is good. He's a major league pitcher. Maybe we caught a break there. I think he's going to be really interesting."
If all else fails
Beyond Wakefield and Aceves, there aren't too many ready-made options to pick up starts. Expect a move on this front in time.