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Lackey faces up to challenges

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  February 14, 2011 09:55 PM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. If dropping a few pounds made a pitcher better, you'd see them all lined up outside of Jenny Craig. It's not that easy.

Still, you have to give John Lackey credit. He says he lost 10 pounds and it looks like more. He spent an hour a day doing cardio workouts, going 20 minutes on a treadmill, 20 minutes on a bike and then 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer. Boring, but effective.

"I watched a lot of SportsCenter," he said, laughing.

Lackey, who is 32, has reached the age where extra work has to be done.

"I'm just trying to give myself the best chance possible to stay healthy and maintain a high-level performance throughout the year, because I think we're all pretty excited about this season and wanting to be part of it."

Lackey did not pitch as poorly in 2010 as was perceived. His 4.40 ERA was the highest it has been since 2004 and his 1.419 WHIP was the worst of his career. But Lackey was much better in the second half of the season, posting a 3.97 ERA and 1.216 WHIP.

Of his 33 starts, 21 were quality starts. Lackey also was 14-11 and pitched 215 innings. Here's the list of American League pitchers who won at least 14 games and pitched at least 215 innings:

CC Sabathia
Justin Verlander
Ervin Santana
Carl Pavano

Those 215 innings provided a lot of value for the Red Sox. But more was expected because Lackey had signed a contract worth $82.5 million. Red Sox fans also remembered him as the ace of Angels, the guy who dominated Game 1 of the 2008 AL Division Series.

Instead they got a pitcher who was hit hard by lefties (.298/.364/.438), pitched poorly on the road (3-6, 4.45) and got smacked around by the Rays and Blue Jays.

Lackey didn't help himself by making excuses when he did lose. It was a defensive mechanism in the wake of more media attention that he had ever experienced. There is more scrutiny when you play for the Red Sox, particularly in comparison to a team like the Angels, and Lackey has trouble with it.

"Honestly, I think it was overblown,'' he said when asked about the perception of last season. "I'd won 14 games only once in my life. I led the team in quality starts. Whatever. It kind of comes with it.''

"I'm not saying I pitched great, I'm not saying that at all,'' he said. "I definitely could have pitched better.''

For any of us, changing jobs can be difficult. It's the same for baseball players. For Lackey, his second year with the Sox will be easier for him and should translate to better results. Having a better bullpen and better defense behind him (particularly in the outfield) also will make a difference.

"There's definitely room for improvement," Lackey said. "I think experience of a year here will help. I think I did some good things in the second half and hopefully I'll just kind of keep that moving."

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