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Lackey: Healthy outlook

He's determined to return to form

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 2, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - John Lackey is in the early stages of rehabilitating his right elbow after Tommy John surgery. He won’t return in 2012, but he believes the procedure will get him back to being the pitcher he once was.

“I had to have it done,’’ said Lackey. “There was no choice. Dr. [Thomas] Gill told me I had one of the biggest bone spurs he’d ever seen, and of course the damage led to the Tommy John surgery.’’

Lackey, whose operation was performed in November by Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles, said he pitched in pain for two years.

“At least when this is over, I’m looking forward to pitching healthy again,’’ he said. “For sure I’m going to miss competing and being out there, but this had to be done.’’

For now, Lackey is throwing from 45 feet every other day.

“It’s not much, but it’s a start,’’ he said. “Not throwing it very hard, but it’s a long process and I have to go through all the progressions and steps.’’

Unlike Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill, both of whom are also recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lackey said he will be with the team in Boston during his rehab.

Matsuzaka and Hill will remain in Fort Myers until they’re ready to pitch competitively sometime in May.

The Red Sox were aware of Lackey’s potential elbow issues when they signed him to a five-year, $82.5 million deal in December 2009. So much so that Gill, then the team physician, recommended to Sox general manager Theo Epstein that he include a clause in the contract to protect the team in case Lackey missed time because of elbow surgery.

Sure enough, two years into the contract, Lackey underwent surgery. And so Lackey’s contract now includes a team option for a sixth season at that year’s major league minimum. If Lackey can regain the form of his Angels years, it would be a major bargain for the Red Sox. If he continues to struggle, the Sox can opt out.

Lackey, 33, went 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA last year after going 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in his first season with the Red Sox.

The Red Sox are paying him $15.25 million and Matsuzaka $10 million this season. That is part of the reason they didn’t spend a lot for a free agent pitcher in the offseason.

The Sox instead settled on low-cost options such as Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, and Carlos Silva. They also have Felix Doubront and Andrew Miller, lefthanders who are out of options.

The only major offer they made to a free agent pitcher was to Roy Oswalt at around $6 million.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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