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Lackey needs elbow surgery

He’ll be sidelined for 2012 season

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 26, 2011

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Ben Cherington did have one major announcement to make on the day he was introduced as general manager of the Red Sox.

Righthander John Lackey has elected to undergo Tommy John elbow surgery, a procedure that will keep him out for the entire 2012 season.

“He’s really excited about the future,’’ Cherington said. “Certainly anxious about the surgery and getting that done and the rehab. He knows that he’s a much better pitcher than what he showed in 2011. I believe he’s going to be a much better pitcher than what he showed.’’

Lackey had one of the worst seasons in baseball history, going 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA. Over 160 innings, he allowed 203 hits and 56 walks and hit 19 batters.

When Lackey was on the disabled list in May because of elbow pain, an MRI at the time showed ligament damage. But the decision was made for him to continue pitching.

“It was similar to the MRI at the time [Lackey signed],’’ said Cherington. “The symptoms were there but appeared manageable. He definitely wanted to pitch. Surgery was never really considered at that time.’’

Lackey pitched effectively after coming off the disabled list, going 7-3 with a 4.97 ERA in his first 10 starts. But he had a 6.75 ERA in his final 11 starts and was 0-2 with a 9.13 ERA in five September starts as the team collapsed.

“Towards the end of the year, it began bothering him a little bit more,’’ Cherington said. “He made that start in New York [on Sept. 25], his last start, and actually pitched really well. But he was battling it.’’

An examination by Dr. Lewis Yocum in California showed a ligament tear, and surgery was recommended. Lackey agreed and Yocum will perform the surgery in the near future.

The surgery, which usually takes a year to recover from, will trigger a contract clause that gives the Red Sox an option on Lackey for 2015 at the major league minimum.

Because of Lackey’s history, the Sox insisted on the clause. It is based on how many days Lackey misses over the first five years of the deal.

Lackey is 26-23 with a 5.26 ERA since signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal before the 2010 season. His signing is considered one of the biggest mistakes of Theo Epstein’s tenure as general manager.

Lackey also struggled off the field. He is one of the central figures in the team’s clubhouse beer-drinking scandal and drew the ire of fans by demonstrably rolling his eyes or throwing up his arms when teammates missed balls in the field behind him.

Lackey had a rocky relationship with the media as well, often giving one- or two-word answers to questions. After that start in New York Sept. 25, he carried on at length about a reporter sending him a text message before the game regarding his filing for divorce.

Lackey knew the message came from the gossip website TMZ but nonetheless castigated reporters at Yankee Stadium.

Cherington was asked if a year out of the spotlight could prove beneficial in that regard for Lackey.

“There would be, aside from just getting healthy physically, there could be some benefit,’’ he said. “You’d have to ask John to get a better answer.

“He’s gone through a lot. I think he’s closer to resolving, for him, some of that stuff than he was a year ago. Maybe it is an opportunity for a fresh start physically and mentally.’’

With Lackey out for 2012 and Daisuke Matsuzaka likely to miss the bulk of next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June, the Red Sox are in need of starters.

Cherington said Alfredo Aceves would be considered for that role. The new GM seemed less enthused about the idea of using relief ace Daniel Bard as a starter.

Cherington did not sound like he planned to chase high-profile free agents, saying the team needed to identify “undervalued’’ pitchers like Aceves to fill out the rotation.

“We need to build pitching depth,’’ he said. “We do have some guys internally who can be part of that competition. We need to add to that group.

“We need to get the new manager in place and go over the pros and cons of these guys.’’

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

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