Lackey has chance to prove his worth

BOSTON -- Ever since the Red Sox signed John Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract this past offseason, people have been comparing the top three pitchers in Boston's rotation to one of the greatest trios of a generation.

Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have been mentioned in the same breath as former Braves Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. That's a pretty lofty comparison, given the fact the three future Hall of Famers combined for an 873-585 record in a total of 66 seasons of experience.

Boston's top three are 250-155 in 22 years of total experience, so there's a long way to go before anyone can realistically compare the two rotations. But the Red Sox certainly have the potential to produce great numbers, especially with all three locked up through 2014.

"Any team that has three good starters, we're kind of the guys they are compared to," Glavine told ESPNBoston.com. "I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing, or a fair thing. You look around baseball and with their top three, I don't know if there's anybody in baseball that's any better than that right now."

Glavine can think of a few teams that match up with the Red Sox with a 1-2 punch, but believes the Sox have an advantage with their depth.

"It's a big deal when you're able to throw three guys like that who are that strong in the rotation," he said. "And arguably their No. 4 [Tim Wakefield] and 5 [Clay Buchholz] guys are pretty good, too. Over the course of 162 games, that makes a big difference. That's certainly something they're excited about and they're going to hang their hat on. If those guys do their job, then that's going to be the big reason why that team is successful."

The Boston Red Sox announced Beckett's four-year, $68 million contract extension Tuesday, the day after he struggled in his Opening Night start against the Yankees, posting a no-decision after working 4 2/3 innings in which he allowed five runs on eight hits.

On Tuesday the Sox gave the ball to Lester, whom they wasted little time in locking up with a five-year, $30 million deal before last season.

Now it's time for Lackey to prove his worth.

The veteran right-hander will make his Red Sox regular-season debut Wednesday night in the finale of a three-game set with the New York Yankees. It will be his first experience with the rivalry.

"It's fun," he said. "I threw a bullpen [on Sunday] and it was a little bit different throwing in the other bullpen. I'm excited about it. It's going to be a lot of fun. Might as well jump right into it. It's a big rivalry, I know, but might as well check it out right out of the gate."

Buchholz is the junior member of the rotation and has already learned a lot from Beckett and Lester. He says having another veteran in Lackey around will only help.

"Awesome," Buchholz said of Lackey. "Playing against him, he's a guy you see on the other side, and on the mound he has that mentality that he doesn't care about the other team. He's out there to beat you and it doesn't matter what happens. Then the first day he's here, he's probably one of the most outgoing people I've ever met. He makes you feel good because he laughs at all your jokes and he's always smiling. He's a good guy to have in the clubhouse, and he's going to help us in a lot more ways than just pitching."

Lackey has been a workhorse on the mound. Since the 2003 season, he has ranked among the AL leaders in starts (second with 215), shutouts (tied for second with eight), innings (third with 1,392 2/3), strikeouts (third with 1,132), wins (fourth with 93) and complete games (fifth with 13).

"He's a guy who goes out there and is quick," Buchholz said. "He throws strikes and pounds the zone. He keeps the infielders and outfielders on their toes, and the game has a steady tempo every time he goes out there regardless of the results."

When the Red Sox signed Lackey, manager Terry Francona said he didn't allow himself to wonder just how good this rotation could be.

"Hopefully that ends up being a great thing," Francona said. "We don't look past today, let alone looking years down the road, but finding pitching that can go through the American League East is not an easy thing to do."

The Red Sox will need to rely on all of their starting pitchers to have perennial success, but any time a club can run a string of pitchers like Beckett, Lester and Lackey out there, good things could happen.

"If everything goes right, it's going to be the best rotation that I've ever been involved with," Buchholz said. "It's something that's going to be fun to be a part of for the next five seasons."

Lackey will have his chance to make his mark Wednesday night against the Yankees.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.