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There were a variety of question marks hovering around the Boston Red Sox entering the 2013 season. Few loomed as large as starting pitcher John Lackey’s return after sitting out last season as he recovered from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. Two months in, it is safe to say that question has been answered, and Red Sox Nation couldn’t be more delighted with the result.
The 34-year-old is sporting a 2.79 ERA and WHIP of 1.14 through nine starts this season and has tallied 50 strikeouts while only walking 14 batters. He’s kept opposing teams to three or fewer earned runs in eight of his nine starts so far this season. That is something he managed to do only 13 times in 28 opportunities during his 2011 campaign, which also included career highs in both ERA (6.41) and WHIP (1.62). It’s amazing what some surgery and a year off can do, but Lackey isn’t surprised by his success at all.
“I’m definitely happy where I’m at,” said the Texas native, “but you guys keep thinking that I’m surprised that I’m successful. I’ve been pretty good in this league a few times.”
It’s very true that Lackey is no stranger to success. The veteran right hander has built a very impressive resume throughout his career that includes a World Series championship with the Angels in 2002 as well as an All-Star selection along with ownership of the lowest ERA in the American League (3.01) in 2007. The key to his success was his heater. With above average velocity, Lackey would pound the strike zone with his fastball and collect outs at an incredibly efficient rate. So far in 2013, it appears he has regained the confidence in his fastball that seemed to disappear in 2011.
In 2007, when Lackey placed third in AL Cy Young voting, 62.1% of all pitches were fastballs. In 2011, by far the worst season of his career, his percentage of fastballs thrown fell to around 51%. In his most recent start against the Rangers, in which he allowed one run and five hits through six innings of work, over 78% of the pitches he threw were fastballs.
While the repaired elbow is likely a large contributor to his improvement in consistency, manager John Farrell also noted the improved physical condition of his pitcher heading into 2013.
“I think a lot of that stems from the reshaping of his body,” Farrell said. “It’s freed his body up. He’s got better body control, he’s more consistent in the outings he’s pitched, and he repeats his delivery very well. When you consider that he’s thrown pitches to both sides of the plate, that further emphasizes his body control and delivery being repeated.”
Lackey’s early success could symbolize the former ace’s reemergence and furthermore, October baseball for the rest of his team. A healthy Lackey has given the Red Sox depth in their pitching rotation that has been missing since 2008. Clay Buchholz has become a Cy Young candidate while Jon Lester and Ryan Dempster have shored up the middle of the rotation fantastically. Adding a veteran like Lackey to the back end of that group makes the Boston rotation seem almost bottomless.
As Boston’s offense currently leads all of baseball in runs scored with 326, the early success of the pitching rotation has allowed the team to take flight. Currently sitting at first place in the AL East with a record of 38-25, the depth of the pitching staff that John Lackey has helped create is showing real promise for the remainder of the 2013 season.