But Francona explained to the media after Monday night's 8-7 walk-off win over the Orioles that this is too early in the year to not stop and try to get the struggling right-hander healthy for meaningful games later in the year.
"He's been having some tugging in his elbow," Francona said of Lackey, who had been scheduled to start Tuesday night against Baltimore.
"He's more than willing to pitch through anything. He said he's pitched through this before, and worse. But it's May, not September. If we don't do something now it might not get better. We talked with the medical staff. I don't think he's too happy about it. He's such a competitor. But it's the right thing to do," said Francona.
Francona was asked if this is a smokescreen for a mental-health break for Lackey, who is dealing with some family issues in addition to his troubles on the mound, leading him to say after his last start that everything in his life was not good these days.
"Really not, no," Francona said when asked if the move was made to give Lackey time to clear his head.
Lackey was torched for nine runs on nine hits and five walks in his previous outing, a loss to Toronto.
Lackey, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million free-agent contract prior to the 2010 season, is 2-5 with an embarrassing 8.01 ERA in seven starts this year. He has been tagged for 53 hits in 39 1/3 innings. Over his time with the Red Sox, Lackey is a mediocre 16-16 with a 4.95 E.R.A. in 40 starts.
Steven Krasner is a regular contributor to ESPNBoston.com.