John LackeyIt was in spring training last year that John Lackey gave the first indication that 2013 would be different than his previous three seasons in Boston. Lackey’s impression hasn’t been quite as strong this spring through three starts.

Lackey, who was charged with five earned runs on 10 hits over 4 2/3 innings in the Boston Red Sox’s 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, saw his spring ERA rise to 9.49. But while Lackey also has given up 20 hits in just 12 1/3 innings, the Red Sox aren’t too worried about the veteran right-hander’s spring shakiness.

“It’s spring training, man. I’m not real concerned about a whole lot right now,” Lackey told reporters in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., following Saturday’s outing. “I’m just trying to build up some arm strength and get ready for the real deal.”

Lackey hasn’t been that sharp, particularly in his last two starts, but he hasn’t been quite as bad as the box scores indicate, either. A couple of fly balls to left field really carried against Lackey on Saturday, and the 36-year-old did strike out six while not surrendering a walk. Lackey missed with some pitches Saturday but other times showed pretty good location, especially in the second inning, when he struck out back-to-back hitters — one swinging, one looking — on fastballs on the outside corner.

“A couple of breaking balls didn’t get to the spot that he was intending, and anything in the air to left is going to carry out of here today,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Saturday’s game.

The most important aspect of Lackey’s spring, of course, is building arm strength, mainly because he was brought along slowly by the Red Sox in the wake of last season’s heavy workload. It appears Lackey is on the right track in that regard, and the Red Sox should feel fairly comfortable at this point about him being ready to take the ball and give Boston a chance to win in the second game of the season on April 2, and beyond.

“I felt fine. I felt like I threw the ball better this time than last time,” said Lackey, who also gave up five runs Monday. “I had a good bullpen session in between. My slider was better this time, threw a couple of a good ones. The last one I threw for the homer wasn’t a good one. I got up to 80-something pitches and it was a good day.”

Lackey threw 83 pitches (53 strikes), and the plan is for him to throw 90-100 pitches against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.

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