John Lackey rules out 2012 return

BOSTON -- Bobby Valentine said Friday there was a possibility that Red Sox pitcher John Lackey could make an appearance in a big league game in some capacity -- maybe just an inning or two -- before the end of the season, but Lackey dismissed that notion Saturday.

"I'm not going to pitch here," Lackey said. "No, I'm not going to push it that hard. My doctor doesn't want me to pitch this year. [My arm] was pretty messed up, so he wants it to rest."

Lackey threw 15 pitches in a live batting-practice session Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park. It was the first time he faced hitters since undergoing Tommy John surgery last offseason.

A decent crowd of teammates (mostly fellow pitchers), Red Sox staffers and Valentine looked on during the throwing session. Daniel Nava and Ivan De Jesus served as the hitters.

"It's the first step in the new world for him after a real hard summer of rehab," Valentine said. "Better than how he looked is how he felt. He said he felt great afterward, and that's important.

"He looked OK, considering it was his fist time. His breaking ball was really good, which is usually the last thing, and he's been working on that less. It was good. He just didn't have real good control of his two-seamer."

If his arm feels good Sunday and he continues to progress, Lackey would likely throw another live BP session Wednesday.

"It was kind of weird being on a game mound. Man, it's been a while," Lackey said. "The arm feels good, but the location's not where I want it to be, obviously. But at this point, I just want the arm to feel good, and I'll worry about the other stuff later on."

Red Sox starters Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester stood behind the cage to watch the session.

"He looked really good," Lester said.

There is a chance Lackey could throw in the Arizona Fall League if he wants to see some game action before the offseason.

Lackey has drawn criticism since arriving in Boston, especially last season when he posted a 12-12 record and a 6.41 ERA. Even before he signed a five-year deal worth $82.5 million as a free agent, the club knew the right-hander had a bad elbow and would need surgery at some point.

He pitched all of last season with severe discomfort. Now that he is closer to returning to game action, Lackey is thrilled with that thought.

"Man, it's the light at the end of the tunnel," Lackey said. "It's been 10 months of a grind, really. I've been doing a lot of exercises every day, trying to get back right, and it's nice to get a little treat like that to throw off a mound."

Valentine is impressed with the work Lackey has put in to return to this point.

"From the first day of spring training, when I saw John in the weight room I was impressed with his work," Valentine said. "He's missed one day all year. It's been really impressive."

That one day, Valentine explained, was due to a move he had to make at his home in California.

With the 2012 season quickly coming to an end, Lackey should be ready for spring training and could possibly return to the rotation early next season.

"It's hard to tell," Valentine said. "I would think, though, that he would be really close.

"If he continues to work hard all winter, which I believe he will, he'll give us and himself the best chance. Now whether or not it has to be Opening Day, I can tell you right now I don't think that's necessarily the goal. To get him back healthy is the key -- 100 percent."