John Lackey brushes off surgery talk

PHILADELPHIA -- While Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona dismissed a suggestion that John Lackey may need elbow surgery later this summer, general manager Theo Epstein acknowledged the club is "constantly monitoring" the pitcher's health.

Lackey pitched very well -- "tremendous" was Francona's word -- in a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night, and had little appetite for questions about his elbow, growing increasingly testy during a postgame session that ended with a question from NESN's Heidi Watney, who asked the 32-year-old right-hander to clarify whether surgery had been discussed.

"You guys are brutal," he said. "No, there hasn't been."

Lackey went on the disabled list May 16 with what the club called a strained right elbow and was administered a cortisone shot at that time. Since then, Epstein said, the club has been "constantly monitoring" him. Lackey came off the DL on June 5 and in five starts since that date has gone 3-2 with a 5.28 ERA.

"We're not hiding that he had an elbow injury," Epstein said Wednesday, "or that he had a history of elbow issues in the past. The shot alleviated some of the symptoms. Our responsibility is to monitor him and make sure those symptoms don't come back and that he can go out and pitch, and pitch effectively."

During an interview Wednesday with radio station WEEI, contributor Peter Gammons said, "With all the problems with Lackey's elbow, is this guy going to end up needing Tommy John surgery before August? That's something [the Red Sox] have to decide."

When Lackey was first asked about the possibility of surgery, he said, "You never know. I don't know. What did it look like tonight?"

Asked how his elbow felt, Lackey said, "Pretty good. Probably not as good as some, better than others."

A follow-up question also addressed Gammons' remarks. "It's a possibility for everyone in here," Lackey replied. "You can throw that against the wall and see if it sticks. He straight made that up."

Lackey went 7 2/3 innings Wednesday night, departing after a two-out triple by Chase Utley that just missed being a home run. He gave up eight hits, walked one and struck out five and threw just 90 pitches, the Phillies swinging and missing just three times.

"I felt pretty good," he said. "I was locating a little bit of everything, mixed things up pretty well. I gave us a chance."

After allowing four hits to the first six batters, a run scoring in the second when Shane Victorino doubled and Raul Ibanez singled him home, Lackey retired 15 of the next 17 batters he faced until Ibanez, a longtime nemesis for the Seattle Mariners when both played in the AL West, led off the seventh with a home run.

"He's seen me about 800 times in the AL West," Lackey said. "I don't have many tricks he hasn't seen."

Lackey's RBI double in the fifth accounted for the only run of the night for the Sox, who have gone a season-high seven straight games scoring four runs or fewer.

"You can't expect 12 runs every night," Lackey said. "We have a great offense. It'll be back soon."

Since coming off the DL, Lackey has made just one horrific start, June 22 at home against the San Diego Padres, a rain-drenched affair that started late and ended for him with one out in the fourth, after he'd given up five runs on four hits, four walks and two hit batters. He was asked if his elbow is at a point where he can throw the ball the way he likes.

"I can't predict the future," he said. "I feel stronger than before the DL. Yeah, for sure."

Earlier, Epstein was asked if it was accurate to describe Lackey's injury as a ligament tear, the type of injury that would require reconstructive surgery.

"I can't discuss that," he said. "Again, first off almost every pitcher by standard definition has a tear in his shoulder or elbow. That's the nature of throwing a baseball. I think it's accurate to say he had an elbow injury, he was given a shot for it to alleviate the symptoms and we monitor it closely."

While with the Angels, Lackey missed six weeks at the start of the 2008 season with what was called a strained triceps, and the following season he missed the first six weeks with what was called a strained right forearm. He entered play Wednesday with a 5-6 record and 7.36 ERA in 11 starts, the worst ERA of any pitcher in the majors with at least 50 innings.

Meeting with the media earlier, Francona said, "We don't usually work six weeks ahead on surgery. 'Go get 'em, Lack. You've got six more starts and then you'll need Tommy John.'"

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.