John Lackey Hopes To Bounce Back For The Red Sox
As everyone in Boston knows John Lackey is not a very well liked guy around these parts. It’s hard to blame Red Sox Nation in light of his on the field performance. He went 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in his first season for the Red Sox, not horrible but not what you’d expect from a guy making north of $14 million a year. The following season the bottom fell out for Lackey both on the field and off. Lackey went 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA and was the center of the Red Sox “beer and chicken” controversy that happened amid the dreaded September collapse. Almost immediately after the season new Sox GM Ben Cherington announced that Lackey had to have Tommy John surgery and would miss the entirety of the 2012 season. The debacle that was the 2012 Red Sox season came and went and now Lackey is back, ready to contribute.
In some ways it’s easy to feel bad for Lackey. There were three people at the center of the beer and chicken debacle. Josh Beckett is gone and Jon Lester seems to get a pass due to his past history in Boston. That leaves Lackey to carry all the weight for the saga over a year later. Lost in all of this is that last season was an even bigger debacle and Lackey was hardly to blame. I keep hearing how unlikable this Red Sox team is however people are slow to name the unlikable players after Lackey and Alfredo Aceves. It seems like John Lackey is carrying a lot of water for the entire organization. Luckily though he seems to be taking out all in stride. Lackey, who’s been abrasive with the media his entire career, has taken a different approach this spring. He’s opened up more and acknowledged his past mistakes and what he needs to do change the perception of him in Boston. He seems eager to change the way Red Sox Nation looks at him (as evidenced in this great article by WEEI’s Rob Bradford). This is a change from the John Lackey that came to Boston. Even in his Anaheim days he carried himself with a chip on his shoulder. He’s shown more humility in spring then I can remember him showing in his entire career prior.
The off-the-field transformation is all well and good but Lackey will need to back it all up on the mound. In the spring so far he looks as changed a man on the mound as he is off of it. For starters he’s dropped a ton of weight and looks to be in the best shape that he’s been in years. He’s 2-0 with a 5.40 ERA although most of the runs he gave up came in his first outing of the spring. His last outing on Thursday was a major step forward. He threw 73 pitches (50 for strikes) over 5 innings against the Phillies. He gave up 1 run and recorded 13 ground ball outs as he kept the ball low on the Philly hitters. He reached 92 MPH on the radar gun for the first time this spring and showed a lot of downward movement on his fastball. It’s still the Grapefruit League but if Lackey can carry it over to the regular season then we may see more of the Anaheim Lackey than the Boston Lackey which is what we’ve all been waiting for since he signed with the Sox.
Everyone can admit that at one point in his career John Lackey was a very good pitcher. He’s had more than his fair share of struggles both on the field and off during his time with the Red Sox. But even the biggest John Lackey hater has to realize that when someone has Tommy John surgery that there was serious damage inside their elbow. The rumor is that Lackey already had the elbow issues at the time of the signing and he put off the surgery for two years because he felt that he had to live up to the contract. There is a good chance that Lackey will be the healthiest that he’s even been in a Boston uniform come his first start this season.
Lackey seems like a changed man although we haven’t even gotten back to Boston yet and there is a very long road ahead for him. He seems willing to tackle the challenge with some humility for a change and hopefully it will have a positive effect on the results. Not many people get second chances, especially from a group as stubborn as Red Sox Nation, but if he is willing to change why not give him one?