FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Pitcher Jon Lester, for one, hopes that John Lackey's days as Boston’s DH --designated heavy -- can come to an end after three years of being pilloried as a lousy pitcher and a worse person.
“I’m always encouraged by Lackey,’’ Lester said. “People don’t understand how happy-go-lucky he is.
“I understand that Lack’s Lack. Lack’s going to do what he tells you he’s going to do. He’s going to go out there, he’s going to take the ball, he’s going to compete. He’s done that. The first year he was here , Lack threw 200 innings. If you go back, he gave up a hit per inning. That’s Lack. His ERA was a little higher, [but] he was in the American League East. Still, he won 14 games. And the next year, he’s pitching with a blown elbow.’’
In 2010, Lackey was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA, his highest ERA since his first full season in the big leagues, 2003. He pitched 215 innings, and gave up 9.8 hits per nine innings, just a tick higher than his last season with the Angels.
But having signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Red Sox, more was expected, whether fair or unfair. In 2011, Lackey had a historically bad performance, his 6.41 ERA the worst ever by a Sox starter with 150 innings or more, and his 114 earned runs allowed were the most in the majors. He’d gone on the disabled list early in the season, but an MRI taken by the Sox did not show a significant difference from elbow damage shown in an MRI before he signed, according to GM Ben Cherington. It wasn’t until after the season, when he went to Los Angeles orthopedist Lewis Yocum for additional testing, that Lackey elected to proceed with Tommy John surgery.
His problems were not limited to on the field. He went through a difficult divorce, was targeted by a gossip website, and was fingered as a beer-and-chicken villain. His relationship with most of the media was strained, even as Terry Francona and others vouched for him repeatedly.
Lackey traveled with the team for much of 2012, even as he continued his rehabilitation, and by the end of the season was in excellent condition. He threw some innings in the instructional league after the season, and comes to camp without any restrictions, according to manager John Farrell, who has named him one of his five starters.
“I love Lack,’’ Lester said. “Lack is one of the guys on this team that I know I can go up to when I’m feeling sorry for myself and he’ll call me on BS. I know Lack’s the guy, while we’re running, will be making jokes and having a good time.
“He looks great. One thing with Lack, yeah, he’s lost a lot of weight, but work ethic has never been a problem or issue with him. I assume you can go back to his Angels days, and people will tell you that. He made some lifestyle changes as far as eating a little bit better; that’s something we can all do.
“Look at him now, he looks like a teen-ager.’’
Lester understands that Lackey’s image needs rehabilitation, a difficult task especially in Boston, where many people have already formulated a strong opinion on him.
“I think people think he’s just an [expletive],’’ Lester said.
“Lack came from L.A., where he was the guy, to a place where it was really me and Josh Josh [Beckett], then him, and he was getting all the blame. That was tough for him. I hope that this year, not just for us, but for him personally, I hope he has an awesome year and he can be Lack and people can really see how genuine a person he is and how nice a person he is and how competitive a person he is. He gives a damn and he wants to win more than anybody on this team, I guarantee you that.’’