Takeaways: Rays 4, Sox 3, Lackey priceless

John Lackey got a pat on the back from Jonny Gomes after his one-inning outing Saturday. AP Photo/David Goldman

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A few takeaways from the Fort, where it was all about John Lackey in the Red Sox's 4-3 loss to the split-squad Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday in their Grapefruit League opener:

* The offseason was short on big-splash acquisitions, but catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said we might have forgotten about one that cost the Red Sox nothing: Lackey.

"He's been a No. 1 [starter] his whole career," Saltalamacchia said. "He's got that in him to be a No. 1 again. That's the fortunate thing this team has: We've got four guys who can be No. 1. We had a free-agent signing in him because he's back and he's healthy. We're getting a guy we didn't have to go out and sign. It's going to be nice to have a guy like him to eat up innings like he's done his whole career."

Lackey, who underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery that sidelined him for nearly 16 months and who was pitching for the first time since Sept. 25, 2011, got out of a bases-loaded jam by giving up just one run.

"It could have gotten ugly," Saltalamacchia said. "He worked back, kept the ball down and the ball was coming out nice. We came into that knowing that we were going to throw fastballs. We didn't have anything else but two changeups we were going to throw. It was strictly a feel-good outing."

Manager John Farrell said the biggest bonus was no pain.

"It's a big step," Farrell said, "and it's one that over the last 16 months, he was obviously on his own program and probably at times felt he was the only one going through it. And today was the first step, the first building block toward spring training and getting back to being a regular member of the rotation.

"I think there was a lot of anticipation on a number of people's part -- and mostly John's. But now he's able to get into a five-day rotation -- normal sides, normal turns through the schedule."

According to Jon Lester, those who were surprised by Lackey's jovial postgame demeanor shouldn't have been.

"As far as in here, he's been the same since day one," Lester sad. "He's probably one of the greatest teammates I've ever had. ... He's on that top list for me. As far as dealing with the media, everybody struggles with that in their own way. John came from a place in Anaheim where no matter if you did good or bad, you were still the guy. [It was] a little bit smaller market, and he didn't have to deal with all this. We're all trying to get better at it."

* Jose (.118) Iglesias fired a shot over the bow with a two-run, seventh-inning homer over Fenway South's Green Monster, quickly sending Marquis Fleming's high fastball into orbit after an offseason in which his hitting was ridiculed.

"Wish there were a couple more like it," Farrell said. "He's a little more upright and more free in his overall swing. He got a fastball up in the zone and did what he's capable of doing. But I think more than anything, it's just the freeness and aggressiveness to the swing."

* Left-hander Drake Britton pitched a scoreless second inning but then was nicked for a run in the third when he gave up a double to Desmond Jennings and watched Jennings steal third and score on a throwing error by Saltalamacchia.

"It was awesome," Britton said. "I know it's spring training, but all the fans were here and it was packed. It was an exciting feeling to be on the mound and turn around and see all the guys I look up to and watch playing on TV."

Britton was pretty amped, but he settled down after Saltalamacchia went out to the mound for a brief chat.

"He's got such good stuff, it's almost like you have to remind him, 'Hey, throw the ball over the plate,'" Saltalamacchia said. "You just try to calm him down. Everybody was antsy the first game. Heck, I was antsy."

* Daniel Nava's stint at first base came off without a hitch. Farrell said his instincts looked good: "He looks fine over there now. You look back to junior college, the last time he played first base, and he's handled it well."

* Shane Victorino got a preview of Fenway Park when he played a fifth-inning carom off the short porch in right but couldn't nail Matt Joyce at second base.

"It was good to get one down the line to kind of see how it's going to play," he said. "I'm sure there will be ones that are more difficult."

* Anthony Carter and Pedro Beato pitched the only clean innings for the Red Sox. Oscar Villarreal took the loss, giving up two hits and two runs in the eighth inning.

* All of the big-name regulars stay in Fort Myers on Sunday as the Red Sox bus to Jupiter to meet the St. Louis Cardinals. Lester makes the start, followed by Rubby De La Rosa, Junichi Tazawa, Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller and Koji Uehara.