If you’re into fun mini-games inside the game, there’s always one going on when John Lackey steps on the mound.
The working title is, “How Many Pitches Will It Take John Lackey To Throw Anything Besides A Fastball.”
Really. Try it.
In his first start of the season, he started the Orioles off with 16 straight heaters.
Last month against the Tigers, he threw 21 straight. In a second-inning staredown with Austin Jackson, Lackey fired nine in a row.
Three pitches into the Red Sox’ 10-3 win over the Indians Friday night, Lackey went away from his four-seamer — for what it’s worth, though, 23 of his first 25 pitches were heaters.
But in the second inning, when Lackey started off Indians catcher Carlos Santana with a slider off the plate, missed with a fastball to make it 2 and 0, and decided to go back to the slider, even Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski thought it was odd.
“He usually doesn’t throw a breaking ball until late in the game, and for him to throw one to Santana 2 and 0 in the first or second inning, that’s not John,” Pierzynski said.
When Santana smacked it over the visitors’ bullpen for a two-run homer, Lackey couldn’t help but flash back to his start last week in Cleveland.
He pulled the breaking ball out of his pocket early in that start and the Indians tagged him for two of the three runs he’d allow over eight innings.
“That definitely sent up a red flag to where [Pierzynski] was at, for sure,” Lackey said. “I changed some things facing [Santana] the next couple times.”
When Michael Brantley shot a 0-and-2 breaking ball into the gap for a run-scoring double the next inning, Lackey decided to adjust.
He force-fed the Indians fastballs, throwing 89 in all over his 6⅔ innings, 56 for strikes.
After Brantley’s double, Cleveland barely made a peep. Lackey sat down 14 of the next 16 batters he faced.
“They put up a number of good at-bats early on him and, after the third inning, his location became much more consistent,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “He was much more efficient.
“To think that he was nearly 60 pitches after three innings, to get into the seventh inning, a testament to his ability to make adjustments in-game.
“The first couple innings tonight, he used a game plan similar to in Cleveland — that was a lot of breaking balls. They had a good game plan against him. Then he started to use his fastball a little bit more in some of those counts that he otherwise would use his curveball. Sped them up to respect the velocity. I think he and A.J. recognized that and, to their credit, they were able to adapt on the fly. But that’s the veteran presence that John Lackey is.”
A night after Jon Lester held the Indians to two runs over 7⅔ innings and helped the Sox shake off a 2-7 road trip, Lackey put together his fifth straight quality start to help the Sox extend their winning streak at Fenway to seven games.
“Jonny and I definitely take pride in trying to end losing streaks and trying to give guys a good chance to win every time we go out there,” Lackey said.
“Jonny pitched great last night and I tried to follow that up with a good effort.”
Lackey’s given up three runs or fewer in each of his past five starts. His 3.24 ERA is the best among Sox starters, and with an 8-4 record he’s been a rock in the rotation.
“I think John deserves a heck of a lot of credit for where he’s at,” said Pierzynski. “His number’s kind of reflect that. The thing about John is he might give up a run here or there, but you know he’s going to be in it until late. Six-and-two-thirds tonight after a high pitch count early, but he settled down and got us into the seventh and that’s what veteran starters do and starters that know how to win, that’s what they do.
“They just know how to compete. They know how to make pitches when they need them and they know how to get through innings and how to sometimes conserve pitches, and John’s one of the best at it.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.