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Spring training

New pitcher can’t wait to get started

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 19, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - John Lackey has not been in uniform for Opening Day since 2007. He started the 2008 season on the disabled list with triceps tendinitis and last year was left behind in spring training with a sore right elbow.

After the Red Sox signed Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million deal in December, they set about trying to prevent that from happening again. Lackey was invited to Boston in early January to work with pitching coach John Farrell and learn exercises designed to strengthen his arm.

“We’ve done some things in the winter, maybe more aggressively than he’s done in the past, with his shoulder and elbow because we are aware of how he’s come out of camp the last two years,’’ manager Terry Francona said.

The Sox call it preventative maintenance; they wanted to get Lackey into their program as quickly as possible. The pitcher agreed and left the warm sun of Southern California for a week.

“He volunteered to come to Boston, which was great,’’ Francona said. “We just wanted to get him acclimated to what we do. There’s a reason guys survive this league, and not only survive but are good. We wanted to make sure we were on the same page. Getting a head start seemed like a better idea.’’

That work appears to have paid off. Lackey arrived in camp Wednesday and yesterday climbed atop a bullpen mound to throw 40 fastballs, 30 from the windup and the rest from the stretch. He looked strong and worked efficiently.

Farrell, who was in a staff meeting, came out to keep track of his new starter and the two spoke for several minutes afterward.

“It felt good,’’ said Lackey, who had thrown off a mound twice this winter. “Obviously [it’s] pretty early, but I feel like I’m right where I should be at this time.’’

Lackey was eager to get started. After spending the first 11 years of his professional career with the Angels, everything is new again. But new relationships are already being formed and others rekindled.

Farrell tried to recruit Lackey to Oklahoma State when he was pitching coach for the Cowboys and Lackey a raw junior college pitcher. Lackey also is eager to get to know fellow Texan Josh Beckett, whom he met at the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco.

Kelli Pedroia, the wife of second baseman Dustin Pedroia, did her part by welcoming Krista Lackey to Boston and suggesting places to live. Now the pitcher is swapping regular text messages with the second baseman.

“Everybody has been great,’’ Lackey said. “First class.’’

Beyond the money and security, one of the reasons Lackey signed with the Red Sox was to be part of such a strong rotation.

“If we all get rolling a little bit, you can have a healthy competition between the starters and it turns into kind of a relay race kind of thing,’’ said Lackey, who called this rotation the best he has ever been a part of. “You don’t want to drop the baton from the next guy. It’s fun when you get in that sort of situation.’’

Francona encourages that type of thinking.

“Good pitchers feed off each other, I agree with that,’’ the manager said. “You try and build momentum. It works all different ways. If you’re struggling, good pitchers stop bad momentum.’’

Lackey answered with confidence all of the seemingly mandatory questions for a newcomer. He said he is looking forward to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry after watching it from afar, calling it “intriguing’’ to be in the middle of. He also isn’t afraid of pitching in Fenway Park, saying the nightly playoff-type atmosphere will suit his competitive personality after a career spent playing in placid Southern California.

“I expect a lot out of myself,’’ he said. “Obviously coming to an organization like this with high expectations, there’s going to be some pressure. But I would have that on myself no matter where I was playing.’’

Lackey had become accustomed to spending spring training in Arizona with the Angels. Now, at 31, he is starting over. The transition is underway.

“It’s a new challenge. Everything is new,’’ Lackey said. “But it has been fun so far.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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