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Lackey isn’t throwing anybody any curves

John Lackey threw 41 pitches in his first outing of the spring, 25 for strikes, going two innings and allowing four hits. John Lackey threw 41 pitches in his first outing of the spring, 25 for strikes, going two innings and allowing four hits. (Dave Martin/Associated Press)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / March 3, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — This was no time for refinement.

As far as Red Sox pitcher John Lackey was concerned, his first outing of spring training was about getting in some nitty-gritty work. Something like breaking rocks with a sledgehammer.

Lackey, who left the Angels last year to sign a five-year, $82 million deal with the Red Sox, brought that hard-hat approach to the mound yesterday at City of Palms Park, where the lanky Texan force-fed the Braves a steady diet of fastballs.

“It was pretty much what I wanted to throw today,’’ said Lackey, who faced 10 batters in two innings and allowed four hits (including a solo home run by Alex Gonzalez) in a 6-1 loss.

“Just wanted to work on my arm strength,’’ he said. “Good first step.’’

As for the homer by Gonzalez?

“I threw a bunch of fastballs,’’ Lackey said. “It was pretty obvious what was coming. And he hit one.’’

It was Lackey’s first time on the mound after going 14-11 (4.40 ERA) in his first season in Boston, one in which he led the team with 33 starts, 215 innings, and 21 quality starts, and ranked second with 156 strikeouts.

“I just wanted to feel four-seam rotation and work on arm strength the first time out,’’ said Lackey, who threw 41 pitches, 25 for strikes. “I was pitching more to contact kind of stuff and I think I threw one two-seamer.’’

The refinement will begin in his next appearance, when he hopes to mix in a cutter.

“I still haven’t thrown a cutter, or thrown that off the mound yet, so I’ll probably work on that a little bit in my bullpen session,’’ Lackey said. “I’m not sure if I’ll throw it in the game, just see how it feels in the bullpen session and just start incorporating a few more things and maybe throw a few more breaking balls the next start.’’

This spring has gone a long way in helping Lackey develop more of a comfort level with the Sox.

“For sure, I think everything’s been more comfortable this year,’’ Lackey said. “As far as knowing everybody’s name, a lot more things are comfortable this year, for sure.’’

It helps that he has become acclimated with pitching in the cauldron that is the American League East.

“There’s stacked lineups, stacked pitching staffs, so it’s a grind night in and night out to play teams 18-19 times,’’ said Jon Lester, when asked about Lackey’s transition from the AL West to the AL East. “Then you throw in the Yankees. You’re basically playing a marathon every time you play them.

“Every night’s a marathon, every night’s a battle and a grind and the four-hour games drain you. So I think that’s a big thing to get used to.’’

Lackey wound up going 6-6 (4.99 ERA) in 16 games against division opponents.

“Yeah, it was definitely a transition,’’ said Lackey. “It’s a better division. Bottom line.

“There was definitely some adjustments, but it should be better going forward.’’

Said Lester, “Obviously, he’s pitched against us and the Yankees in the playoffs before and I think if it would’ve been earlier in his career, it would’ve been a little bit different.

“I just think Lack had a really weird season last year. You look at a lot of his games and it was like one broken-bat hit that sent it from being a 3-1 game to a 5-1 game. That right there ruined his season.’’

When asked if he felt snakebitten, Lackey brushed off the suggestion.

“Honestly, I’m just tired of talking about last year,’’ he said. “I’m ready to move forward and work on this year. Last year, coming into spring training, I just basically wanted to make it through healthy because I hadn’t done it two years beforehand. I’m kind of walking a fine line of pushing it a little bit more this year and still making it through healthy.’’

Lackey is putting in the work now in the hopes his best days with the Red Sox are ahead of him in the fall when the division race really heats up.

“I think he just had a lot of bad luck last year,’’ Lester said. “I think you’re going to see a different pitcher, our defense is better, we’re all healthy, and I think you’re going to see a different guy this year.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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