TORONTO — In his first game in the majors, back in 2002, John Lackey gave up a home run to Alex Rodriguez. Years later, Rodriguez admitted that he used performance-enhancing drugs during that season.
Now Lackey will likely face Rodriguez on Saturday when he is scheduled to start against the Yankees. Once again, Rodriguez’s drug use is an issue.
Rodriguez was suspended for 211 games on Aug. 5. Major League Baseball said at the time it had evidence Rodriguez used numerous forms of PEDs over multiple years.
Rodriguez has yet to deny baseball’s findings but appealed his punishment and has since played nine games for the Yankees, hitting .278 with one home run and four RBIs. The Yankees are 5-4 in the games Rodriguez has started.
Lackey doesn’t believe it’s fair that Rodriguez is on the field.
“I’ve got a problem with it. You bet I do,” Lackey said on Thursday. “How is he still playing? He obviously did something and he’s playing. I’m not sure that’s right . . . It’s pretty evident he’s been doing stuff for a lot of years I’ve been facing him.”
Lackey said the topic comes up frequently in the Red Sox clubhouse, especially among the pitchers.
“Sure, we talk about it,” he said. “But talking to the media about it is a little bit different. People have strong feelings.
“He took me deep the first time I faced him as a rookie, and he admitted to doing stuff back then. There are a lot of things I want back from him.”
Ryan Dempster, who is scheduled to start for the Red Sox on Sunday, is more pragmatic about the issue.
“That’s the reality, right? He has the right to appeal,” Dempster said. “What I want to see is more of a punishment. If you get caught a second time, take it to the house. You’re suspended for life.
“It’s unfortunate, but you can’t stop it. I was joking around the clubhouse [the day that Rodriguez was suspended] that people are still going to speed. People are going to break the laws and players are going to break the rules. You can’t ever really stop it.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell deflected questions about whether Rodriguez should be on the field.
“He has every right to appeal it, which he is,” Farrell said. “We know he’s going to be in the lineup and we’ll prepare accordingly. The process he’s going through is well within his rights. They’re in place for a reason and you can’t argue that.”
As a competitor, is Farrell upset his team has to face a player who has apparently been cheating for years? The Sox have 39 games remaining, 10 against the Yankees. Rodriguez could have a significant impact on the pennant race.
“I understand what you’re getting at. But he being on the field is out of our hands,” Farrell said. “Until completely proven guilty, this is what we’re dealing with.”
Lackey and Dempster believe that Rodriguez and other drug users will be ostracized in baseball over time.
“A lot of the motivation for the testing has come from players. We want it to be an even playing field and we want the game cleaned up as much as anybody,” Lackey said.
“We’re tired of hearing about it. We want it to be about baseball and not about that kind of stuff. Players want to see it out of the game so it’s not a subject. The focus should be back on the baseball.”
The Red Sox are 6-3 against the Yankees this season. Rodriguez is a career .283 hitter against the Red Sox with an .889 OPS.
“I think I know what kind of reception he’s going to get at Fenway,” Lackey said.
As to what the Red Sox players think of Rodriguez, a magazine with his photo on the front was sitting on a table in the clubhouse early Thursday afternoon. Later in the day, the cover was ripped off and was in a nearby trash can.
A day after he belted a tying two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning, Mike Napoli was out of the lineup against the Blue Jays.
Farrell decided before Wednesday’s game that Napoli would get a break in the final game of the series. Daniel Nava started at first base against lefthander Mark Buehrle.
Napoli was 4 for 19 in his career against Buehrle.
“The decision was made for this to be a down day for him,” Farrell said. “We’re going to get in at 3 in the morning. We have another lefthander in [Andy] Pettitte on the mound against us [Friday] night.
“Just trying to balance the schedule. We’ve got a challenging 10 days ahead of us. Just trying to keep everyone involved as best we can and find matchups where it might make the most sense.”
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia also was out of the lineup.
When Nava singled in the second, it marked the 28th consecutive start he reached base safely. Nava has reached in 79 of his 91 starts this season. He went into Thursday with a .370 on-base percentage . . . Clay Buchholz had no ill effects from his 50-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday and is set for three more simulated innings Saturday.