BOSTON -- After 12 years in the majors, pitcher John Lackey knows what he's doing.
So when the big Texas right-hander carried his game plan over from his complete-game quality-start loss against the Cleveland Indians June 2 into Friday night’s rematch, there was no concern from anyone on the Red Sox side.
And after three subpar innings utilizing that same approach to kick things off Friday night, there was still no panic from his teammates. Because Lackey then did what he’s done best the past couple of years of his career -- made adjustments.
“They’re an aggressive team, they like to swing,” Lackey said of the Indians. “I definitely started to mix up it up a little bit more after that third inning.”
Allowing three runs on six hits and burning 58 pitches to make it through the first three innings Friday night, Lackey made several crucial in-game adjustments to keep the Tribe hitless until an Asdrubal Cabrera double with two out in the seventh ended his night. The 35-year-old went 6 2/3 innings total, allowing seven hits and throwing 110 pitches on his way to his fifth straight quality start as the Red Sox rolled to a 10-3 win.
“They put up a number of good at-bats early on, and after the third inning his location became much more consistent, he was much more efficient,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He was nearly at 60 pitches after three innings. To get into the seventh inning -- a testament to his ability to make adjustments in-game.”
Taking the mound with rain coming down steadily at Fenway, Lackey admitted that he was stuck battling the conditions early on in his start. After a nearly effortless first inning, Lackey hiccupped in the second to the tune of a two-run homer allowed to Indians first baseman Carlos Santana. The home run was the first that Lackey has given up since May 17, a span of five starts.
“The homer was a 2-0 slider. That definitely stood up as a red flag where he was at,” Lackey said. “Changed some things facing him the next couple of times.”
With the Red Sox offense tacking on three runs in the bottom of the frame, Lackey took the mound in the third with a lead in hand. Still having not changed his approach, Cabrera drilled a double to left field against him before Michael Brantley followed suit with a double of his own on a 0-2 curveball to tie the game back up in a span of two batters. The pitch served as a breaking point for Lackey.
“I was really kind of pissed about the 0-2 double I gave up to Brantley,” he said. “I can’t do that, I need to either finish him or throw a ball or something. You can’t give up a hit 0-2. I didn’t like that one so much.”
From there, Lackey held the Indians lineup punchless, retiring 14 of the next 16 hitters before he gave up his next hit as the Red Sox offense kicked into gear to give him a two-run lead that he wouldn’t relinquish.
“The thing about John is he might give up a run here and there, but you know he’s going to be in it until late,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “Six and two-thirds tonight after a high pitch count early but he settled down and got us into the seventh. That’s what veteran starters do and starters that know how to win -- that’s what they do.”
So just how do they do that?
“They just know how to compete. They know how to make pitches when they need them. They know how to get through innings and how to sometimes conserve pitches. John’s one of the best at it,” said Pierzynski.
“I think John deserves a heck of a lot of credit for where he’s at,” Pierzynski added. “His numbers reflect that.”
Now at 8-4 on the season with a 3.24 ERA, Lackey has proven himself as one of the team’s most reliable options each time he takes the field. Farrell said as much after the game.
“They had a good plan against him and then he started to use his fastball a little more in some of those counts that he otherwise was using his curveball,” Farrell said. “Sped them up to respect the velocity.
“That’s the kind of veteran that John Lackey is.”