Lackey Keeping Red Sox Rotation Afloat
Yes you read the headline right. John Lackey is emerging as the Red Sox’ most reliable starter while Clay Buchholz is injured and Jon Lester works through struggles. Only a year ago it would have been an inconceivable thought to believe that Lackey could be pitching better than anyone else in the Red Sox rotation. Even back in April when Lackey’s arm was lifeless on his side after what looked like a devastating injury in his first start in over a year it seemed near impossible not only that Lackey would be contributing but he’d be contributing so much at a time when the Red Sox so dearly need him.
Lackey is only 5-5 in his 13 starts but he has pitched much better than his record indicates. He is sporting a gaudy 2.99 ERA and has 73 strikeouts compared to just 17 walks in in 78.1 innings pitched for a 1.200% WHIP which, if he maintained, would be a career low. Lackey has excelled in June so far. He’s posted a 2-0 record with a 3.03 ERA. He leads the rotation in strikeouts with 28 and has a low among Sox starters in June with only 3 walks given up. He’s tied with Ryan Dempster for most innings pitched on the staff with 32.2. We may have seen the best that John Lackey has looked in years on Wednesday evening when he struck out 12 and walked no Rockies over 7 innings. Lackey’s recent performance has been extremely important in the wake of Clay Buchholz’ injury which has sidelined him since the 8th of June.
Lackey has seemed to have shaken off the rust and has pitched more effectively and, as a result, more confidently. He’s always relied on his location to succeed and he seems to have the best command that he’s had in his entire time with the Red Sox. His precision command has been evidenced by his 28/3 K/BB ratio in the month of June. His velocity is starting to come back as well. On Wednesday Lackey hit 95 MPH on several of his pitches. I can’t recall him getting up to 95 previously this season. Obviously Lackey had an uphill battle coming off of over a year of inactivity but he has bounced back well especially considering the injury in his first start and subsequent DL stint. As Lackey pointed out in his post-game presser on Wednesday he generally has more success in the second half of the season than he does in the first and with the added arm strength and confidence he could be in for another strong second half.
Obviously Lackey has had more downs than ups in his time in Boston but like him or not he wears the uniform. Lackey has shown the toughness and savvy that he did when he was in Anaheim over the past few weeks. He is finally showing himself to be the pitcher that the Red Sox thought they were getting when they signed him prior to the 2010 season – an efficient strike thrower with the fortitude to come up big when he is needed the most. Now all Lackey has to do maintain. People can point to his part in the 2011 collapse but you’ve also got to remember that he was pitching with a severely damaged elbow that has been repaired.
John Lackey thinks that he’s in for a big second half of the season. We’ll see if he can live up to his words and his contract. If he does it’s not far-fetched to say that he may be a front runner for the comeback player of the year award. The question is if he does go all the way will Red Sox Nation start warming up to him?