FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This is all you need to know about how John Lackey’s spring has gone: He said Tuesday he already has done some work preparing for the Toronto Blue Jays, the team the Red Sox will be playing next weekend in Rogers Centre.
What that means, of course, is that Lackey has passed every test to the satisfaction of the Red Sox, who at the start of spring training penciled him in to be the club’s No. 5 starter and have found no need for an eraser. He is healthy, his recovery from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery having gone as well as anyone could have hoped, and appears prepared to take a regular turn in the rotation, his first coming in Toronto.
“I’ve still got one more to go,’’ Lackey said after throwing 101 pitches in a minor-league game here Tuesday while the rest of the big-league roster enjoyed a scheduled day off. “I’m not going to get too far ahead of us. But it’s gone pretty good, I’m pretty happy with where my stuff is.’’
While the rest of the team breaks camp on Saturday, Lackey will remain here in the Fort for one last abbreviated tuneup Sunday before flying up to join the club in time for the team’s April 1 opener in the Bronx against the New York Yankees. He is on track to start in Toronto on April 6, his first start since Sept. 25, 2011, a span of more than 18 months. He had Tommy John surgery five weeks later, on Nov. 1.
“I’m looking forward, man,’’ he said. “I’m not looking at elbow issues any more. Move forward and do the best I can from here on out.’’
Had he come to camp with doubts?
“Everybody who has surgery has doubts, for sure,’’ he said. “I got a big zipper in my arm for a reason.’’
But throwing two innings in an instructional game here last fall, followed by a normal offseason, had given him confidence that all the work he’d done in rehab would be rewarded.
Lackey retired 8 of the first 10 batters he faced Tuesday, 5 on strikeouts, throwing his breaking pitches for strikes. The last couple of innings he pumped mostly fastballs, in part just to get his pitch count up.
Of his last 30 pitches, he threw only 12 for strikes. He also gave up three extra-base hits in the fourth, when Tampa Bay’s Triple-A team scored three times off him. The fifth inning was cut short by two outs because he’d reached 85 pitches, but with Daniel Butler behind the plate for his entire outing, Lackey pitched one more inning, finishing with a called third strike.
The setting was a challenge.
“Honestly, to be on a back field on an off day, motivation was a little bit of an issue,’’ Lackey said.
It was even harder, he said, than it was for that instructional league outing last fall.
“The Cowboys were playing that day,’’ said Lackey, whose roots are in Abilene, his rooting NFL interest in Dallas. “I was trying to get it over quick. That was my main motivation: get people out, get out of there.’’
Still a Cowboys fan?
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “Not everybody jumps off bandwagons.’’
Lackey may have been making a subtle reference to his own time in Boston, where no bandwagon ever materialized, even though he won 11 games in 18 starts at Fenway in his first season with the Red Sox, 2010. By 2011, whatever support Lackey may have had was confined within the clubhouse walls.
Still, after his encouraging spring, and a greater awareness that he was damaged goods for the last two years, there is hope for Lackey yet. It all begins next weekend in Toronto. Blue Jays on the brain?
“Oh yeah, I’ve already checked out some things, for sure,’’ he said. “I’ve watched a few games.’’