Lackey takes next step in 'process'

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Ryan Dempster was 26 when he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2003 and made it back almost a year to the day he had surgery. Before the surgery, he was a starter for the Cincinnati Reds, who released him. When he returned, he became a closer for the Chicago Cubs, a role in which he remained until going back into the rotation in 2008.

As a card-carrying member of the TJ survivors’ fraternity, Dempster said it shouldn’t necessarily be a disadvantage that Sox pitcher John Lackey is trying to come back from the procedure at age 34.

“No, I don’t think so at all," Dempster said in Fort Myers the other day. “You look at Lackey, he’s in great shape, he worked hard this winter. But you have to realize, just because you had Tommy John doesn’t mean all of a sudden you’re lights out. You’re going to have ups and downs.

“Your health is the most important thing. If he’s healthy, he has enough knowledge to be a good pitcher," Dempster added.

On Friday, it will be 16 months to the day that Lackey underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Thursday afternoon, he made his second exhibition start and pitched two innings, one more than he did in his first start. He also threw his first breaking balls in a game this spring, a couple of them good, one that he hung in the second inning and was hit for a three-run home run by one Jared Goedert, a minor-league free agent with the Pirates.

“The arm felt good," Lackey said. “A good step in the process.

“I was locating my fastball a lot better down in the zone. I incorporated breaking balls for the first time. Normal spring training."

Normalcy, of course, is progress in itself. When told of Dempster’s comments about the ups and downs he can expect, Lackey nodded.

“For sure, it’s going to be a process," Lackey said. “I talked with several guys about their experiences. I’m still looking for a feel because it’s been awhile.

“But there hasn’t been any pain, my arm strength is getting better, so I’m encouraged for that."