When the captain speaks, it is often taken as gospel. So, when Jason Varitek said after John Lackey's rough outing at Fenway Park on June 22, in no uncertain terms, that Lackey would eventually get it together, you figured he might be on to something.
And when Lackey went to Philadelphia and had one of his best starts of the season against the Phillies, Varitek's assessment rang true.
Five days later, though, Lackey is back to square one and still searching for some sort of momentum in what is becoming an extremely unsightly season. The captain's prediction remains unfulfilled.
Lackey's own assessment of a rocky start Monday against Toronto was rather succinct.
"I gave up some soft hits on some good pitches and made some bad pitches that were hit hard," he said. "It all added up to?that."
"That" is what could go down as the worst start of Lackey's career, at least from a numbers perspective — a 2 1/3-inning stinker in which he gave up seven runs on nine hits.
Consider that Lackey has had two shorter starts in his career, one of which was a two-inning playoff tuneup prior to the 2009 American League Division Series and another in which he was ejected after one batter. With that in mind, Monday's outing was the shortest in which Lackey's effectiveness, or lack thereof, was the driving force.
"There was some hard contact, there was some contact that wasn't," manager Terry Francona said. "They had a lot of hits. They strung them together and they put up a lot of runs."
After a big step forward in Philly, Lackey took a giant step back, and it was evident early that location was going to be an issue.
The game's leadoff hitter, Rajai Davis, doubled. He would eventually steal third and score when the throw scampered away from third baseman Kevin Youkilis.
The second inning saw Aaron Hill slug a one-out solo homer and Travis Snider follow with a double. One out later, John McDonald, whom Lackey put down after their previous encounter, singled in a run.
The wheels came completely off in the third.
Three straight singles to start the frame scored one run to make it 4-0. Hill added an RBI one out later with a base hit of his own. Snider then roped one into the corner in right to score two, ending the afternoon for Lackey.
When his book was closed, Lackey was left with several numbers he will not enjoy seeing on the stat sheet. Here is a sampling:
? ERA at home in 2011: 9.17
? ERA in day games as a member of the Red Sox: 6.85
? ERA against Toronto as a member of the Red Sox: 9.95
? ERA against Toronto in 2011: 12.00
For a guy who began his Boston career as an established front-of-the-rotation stalwart, the numbers represent something rather foreign. Lackey said it was "obvious" that his current slump was the worst of his career.
Because there have been several woeful outings, it begs the question: Are Lackey's elbow issues more severe than we know?
His manager doesn't feel that's the case.
"We've been through everything. We put him on the disabled list because of the elbow," Francona said. "Velocity's been pretty much staying consistent. I think at times the movement and location is probably what's bothered him?We certainly check with everybody all the time [on their conditions]."
As for Lackey, he just sees his current issues as normal wear and tear.
"I've been pitching 10 years. We're all hampered in some way," he said. "It's no excuse, definitely nothing that's going to keep me from pitching."
Still, is it something that is going to keep him from pitching effectively on a consistent basis? If so, Lackey will struggle to make good on the captain's words.