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Lackey in command

He gives bullpen needed breather

By Nate Taylor
Globe Correspondent / June 12, 2010

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There were nine runs on the scoreboard. The Red Sox were turning Jamie Moyer into a batting-practice pitcher. The crowd was rocking.

All John Lackey needed to do was keep the party going.

With the luxury of having a comfortable lead, Lackey showed his best pitches in the third inning, when the Red Sox couldn’t afford to give up any momentum to the Phillies. With a sharp sinker and a pinpoint fastball, Lackey retired the order on just eight pitches.

It was that type of execution by Lackey that continued the Sox’ dominance in their 12-2 win over the Phillies last night.

“You want to try to get those guys back in the dugout as quick as you can,’’ Lackey said of his teammates. “We have a pretty good lineup, and once they get going they are going to feed off each other.’’

Lackey was right.

The Sox scored early and didn’t stop after Moyer exited in the second inning. Boston scored three runs in the bottom of the third off David Herndon.

Lackey allowed a run in the fourth and another in the seventh, his last inning, as the Sox cruised. Lackey (7-3) gave up six hits and struck out three on 86 pitches.

Having a large lead allowed Lackey to be aggressive to the heart of Philadelphia’s lineup. But what made Lackey’s night a success was his pitch selection. He didn’t just throw fastball after fastball to start each at-bat. He also made sure to keep hitters guessing by throwing back-to-back breaking balls.

The performance led to an impressive statistic for always-looking-for-command Lackey: He didn’t give up a single walk.

“He was hitting his spot, and his breaking ball was pretty good,’’ said Marco Scutaro, who had three hits and a RBI. “Lackey is one of those guys where you better be ready to hit because he goes after people.’’

Another test for Lackey was how far he could pitch into the game. With the Sox dealing with injuries and a tattered bullpen from the four-game series with the Indians, it was essential for Lackey to go deep.

In the seventh, Lackey gave up two hits and a run and seemed to be slowing. Manager Terry Francona stayed with his starter though, and the results were good. Lackey retired Carlos Ruiz and Juan Castro to finish his night.

Lackey didn’t let base runners distract him either. After hitting Shane Victorino to start the game, Lackey settled down, mostly throwing down to righthanded hitters for groundball outs.

That’s what pleased Francona the most. Lackey didn’t try to strike out batters. Instead, he used the sinker and the cutter to produce weak contact.

“That’s the whole idea,’’ Francona said. “If you can command, you’ll be in pretty good shape. He threw fastballs where he wanted to and he had a sharp breaking ball.’’

The win was Lackey’s third in his last four starts — a sign that he is doing what was expected by the Sox when the organization signed him to a five-year contract in the offseason.

And if Lackey can keep producing starts where his offspeed pitches are down in the zone, Francona knows he will keep Sox hitters in the dugout rather than on the field.

“He was pumping strikes,’’ Francona said. “The breaking ball was probably the best we’ve seen.’’

Nate Taylor can be reached at ntaylor@globe.com.

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