John Lackey, who has been sidelined all season recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, said he will throw to live hitters for the first time on Saturday and expressed guarded optimism about taking the next step in his ongoing recovery and, perhaps, getting into a live game by the end of the season.
"I'm excited, because it just means I'm moving forward,'' Lackey said before Friday night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. "I haven't had any real setbacks and it feels good, so I'm definitely excited.''
Lackey, who underwent surgery last November 1 to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbowy, threw about "five or six'' bullpens in preparation for his next step. "This will be the first time someone is someone is actually going to be standing in there taking whacks at me,'' he said.
"I'm going to throw everything,'' he said. "I'm not throwing my cutter yet, I'm just throwing curveball and changeup. Just trying to throw mostly four-seamers and getting my arm speed and getting my arm strength back.''
Asked what he hoped to achieve his first time facing live hitters since going 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA in 28 starts last season, Lackey said, "Mostly just locating. I'm just building my arm strength right now, but I just need the reps more than anything.''
Lackey did express some surprise that he had progressed as quickly as he had to this point to face live hitters. "It feels like it's been forever,'' he said. "It's been 10 months of rehabbing. It's exciting stuff, but it's just another part of it. Should be able to get into a game by the end of the month, somewhere, hopefully.''
Said Sox manager Bobby Valentine: "I don't know if he's fully recovered but he sure is close. He's really thrown the ball well.''
The Sox have said that Lackey can get into a "competitive situation" before the end of the season. That could be an Instructional League game.
In other matters:
• Valentine said there was "nothing earth-shattering'' to report on the progress of DH David Ortiz, who underwent a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection before the team embarked on its West Coast swing.
"I haven't heard anything about any baseball activities that are planned,'' he said. Asked if it was unlikely that Ortiz would return before the end of the season, Valentine said, "Ben [Cherington] mentioned that to me the other day, but I'm not sure that's the official word yet. He just said to be prepared just in case he's not going to come back.''
Is it prudent to shut Ortiz down at this point? "It's not really my call,'' Valentine said. "I mean, if he's healthy and he loves to play the game of baseball, he could always go out there and bat it around a little. But I'd hate to jeopardize his career, that's for sure.''
• Valentine lauded the effort of Scott Atchison in Triple A Pawtucket's 2-0 victory over Scranton/Wilkes Barre in the second game of the best-of-five International League playoffs on Thursday.
Atchison, who has been on the DL since July 14 with right forearm tightness, earn the win during his rehab assignment after tossing 1-1/3 scoreless frames. "Atch got the win last night and he threw the ball well,'' Valentine said. "That's really good news."
Atchison could return to the Sox within a few days.