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Lackey impressive against Puerto Rico

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  March 5, 2013 09:59 PM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Tuesday night's game against Puerto Rico didn't count in the Grapefruit League standings for the Red Sox. But it was sure a good test for John Lackey.

Puerto Rico's lineup included Angel Pagan, Alex Rios, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Mike Aviles. That's a lot more talent than the Sox usually face in a given day during spring training, at least until the final 10 days or so.

"Tt was definitely an upgrade in competition from my last one, a lot of big leaguers, a lot of guys that’ll be starting in the league," Lackey said. "So, yeah, it was fun."

Lackey threw three shutout innings. Equally impressive was that he threw 31 of his 45 pitches for strikes, threw all four of his pitches and had his fastball in the 90s. That's solid for a pitcher making his third start after Tommy John surgery.

"He was very good," John Farrell said. "He used all his pitches, all four of his pitches here tonight, strikes with each one of them. With each additional outing he's gone though there's increased arm strength. Thought he was real crisp tonight ... [As] he was warming up for the first inning, the ball was getting out of his hand good, very good."

Said Lackey: "I really feel like my command got better tonight. I was done in the zone for the most part. Tried to elevate my fastball a couple times. I was able to do that and just overall it was a good step in the process."

Lackey is lined up as the No. 5 starter. That number really doesn't matter much once you get through the first week of the season. But it is a sign that the Red Sox should have a stronger back end of their rotation than last season.

Lackey will have down periods as he returns from surgery and may even need to miss a start or two over the course of the year. But he looks to be a far better alternative than the likes of Aaron Cook and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

If Lackey gives the Red Sox 28-30 starts and 175 innings or so, it will certainly give the rotation some stability, especially given the shaky spring training for Felix Doubront thus far.

Also:

• Jacoby Ellsbury missed the game. He has a virus and the Red Sox sent him home. "We'll check him tomorrow. If he's ready to go he'll be back in the lineup," Farrell said.

• Ryan Lavarnway was 3 for 3 with two doubles and threw out two runners stealing. He got Mike Aviles at third base and Will Middlebrooks looked to be talking some trash after he slapped the tag down.

• Jackie Bradley is 9 for 18 with two doubles this spring.

• Farrell put Daniel Nava in right field to see how he could handle the position. Four innings, nothing his way. Of course.

• Clayton Mortensen had a rocky fourth inning then was solid in the fifth and sixth. Farrell attributed it to Mortensen not pitching in a game since Feb. 26. That was just how the schedule worked out.

• Mike Napoli hit a moonshot home run. But more significant may have been the diving stop he made at first base in the fourth inning to rob Molina of a hit.

"He's doing an excellent job there," Farrell said.

That's it for tonight. Catch you tomorrow.

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