BALTIMORE — In his 17 years in the majors, A.J. Pierzynski has built a rapport with his share of pitchers.
Before Red Sox starter John Lackey stepped on the mound Wednesday night, Pierzynski wanted to chat to get a feel for how Lackey wanted to approach the Orioles’ lineup.
But Pierzynski already had an idea of what Lackey wanted to do.
“We had talked about a lot of things,” Pierzynski said. “But one thing I’ve known from facing John, he likes to throw his fastball. He’s not afraid to throw his fastball.”
There wasn’t much thinking involved in the first three innings of Lackey’s six-inning outing in the Red Sox’ 6-2 win. Just heavy doses of the most lethal pitch in his arsenal.
“A bunch of heaters, man,” Lackey said. “Played a little country hardball.”
Lackey limited one of the more potent lineups in the league with a fastball that hovered around 92 miles per hour. Sixty-eight of Lackey’s 90 pitches went for strikes, 43 of his 60 fastballs were strikes, and he hung up six strikeouts to earn the win in his first start of the season.
“The best pitch in baseball is still a well-located fastball,” Pierzynski said. “If you can throw that and do it successfully, you’re going to have a nice run here.”
It helped, Lackey said, that the man behind the plate knew exactly what sign to put down.
“A.J. called a great game. That helps a lot with it, probably,” Lackey said. “We don’t have to really think too much about what pitch you want to throw. He’s throwing down the [No. 1] you’re looking for and things are kind of rolling pretty good.”
Lackey got comfortable quickly. He started the first 12 batters he faced with strikes and threw 19 first-pitch strikes altogether, making a revolving door out of the batter’s boxes.
“That’s the main thing about it, you can get in a rhythm,” Lackey said. “When you’re shaking [signs off] a lot, it’s tough to get in a rhythm and tough to feel good about things. But when a guy is throwing down the pitch that you’re looking for, it just makes things a lot easier to flow.”
Lackey kept the Orioles fishing with six strikeouts, including two looking. In two at-bats against Lackey, Adam Jones stared at an 0-and-2 fastball down and away in the first inning and swatted at a 1-and-2 cutter that darted away on the outside of the plate in the fourth. Lackey’s only mistake was an 0-and-2 fastball, also in the fourth, that Nelson Cruz blasted to right field for a two-run homer.
Lackey’s teammates in the field noticed the action on his fastball as much as the Orioles did.
“His ball was exploding,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “That team, they can hit it. So some of the swings he got tonight, you can tell his fastball was exploding.”
A year ago, Lackey rung up 161 strikeouts, his most since 179 in 2007 while with the Angels, another sign that he is fully back after missing the 2012 season because of Tommy John surgery.
“He’s done such a great job over the last year and a half of getting himself in just tremendous shape,” manager John Farrell said. “He carried similar stuff tonight as we’ve seen most of last year. We need him to be that type of pitcher for us to do what we hope to achieve.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.