John Lackey Ready to Start Looking Ahead While Using Lessons From the Past

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — John Lackey has been asked many times about 2010. What was the adjustment like? Do you feel more comfortable now? Was there an issue with facing American League East lineups more often? Why, in the eyes of some, did you struggle from time to time?

He has answered every question, even if it was the third, fourth or fifth time he had been asked. But with his spring training debut Wednesday at City of Palms Park, Lackey could put a formal end to such discussion.

"Honestly, I'm just tired of talking about last year. I'm ready to move forward and work on this year," Lackey said.

With two innings in Boston's 6-1 loss to Atlanta, that process could begin in earnest. The right-hander, who led the Red Sox in innings and starts and won as many as 14 games for the first time since 2007, gave up a run on an Alex Gonzalez solo homer and struck out one. Throwing almost nothing but fastballs, Lackey was happy with what he called a "good first step."

Focused only on the future, even the gopher ball was easy to shrug off.

"I threw a bunch of fastballs. It was pretty obvious what was coming and he hit one," Lackey said with a smile.

Although he says he is looking beyond 2010, Lackey has been able to utilize last season to construct a new plan of attack for this spring. He has said that it took him time last year to build up the requisite arm strength, perhaps a result of trying to pitch to contact too much during Grapefruit League play — he had been hurt the previous two springs so he, and the staff, mapped out a careful approach.

Inducing groundball after groundball, Lackey posted a 1.20 ERA and did not walk a batter until his final start of Grapefruit League play last year. The precision was notable, but the meticulous approach, and a lightened workload between starts, may have contributed to that lack of arm strength.

If a slightly more aggressive method can have Lackey a little stronger in mid-summer, the club is all for it.

"We kind of went slow with him [last spring training] because of the last two years he was slow out of the gate with Anaheim," manager Terry Francona said. "It was a big, I don't know if accomplishment is the right word, but we wanted to get him out of spring feeling good about himself. If he feels better this spring, that's good. It looks like he's in a little bit better shape. He looks good."

Lackey did not make his debut in 2008 until May 14, and his first start of 2009 came on May 16. After a healthy, but somewhat inconsistent, 2010, Lackey is trying to find that happy medium.

"I'm kind of working that fine line of pushing it a little bit more this year and still making it through healthy," said the 32-year-old, who posted a 4.40 ERA last year.

While he learned plenty from his first year in Boston, including how to approach things in early March, Lackey is intent on moving on.

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