FORT MYERS, Fla. – Red Sox righthander John Lackey doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself, he said, “because I’ve got one more start to go. But it’s gone pretty good. Pretty happy about where my stuff is.”
Lackey, recovering from Tommy John surgery, went 5⅓ innings Tuesday against Tampa Bay’s Triple A team. He allowed three runs on seven hits, with seven strikeouts and four walks. He threw 101 pitches, 54 strikes.
“I was throwing offspeed pitches for strikes, so I felt good about that,” Lackey said. “I tried to throw a lot of fastballs the last couple of innings and tried to stretch it out a little bit. It’s gone pretty well.”
Even though Lackey doesn’t want to jinx himself, he has watched video of Blue Jays hitters. That’s the team he is scheduled to face next weekend at Rogers Centre, in his first start in more than a year after the surgery.
That will be a big moment for Lackey, who has gone through a grueling rehab and whose recovery has been seamless. He said he feels better than he has in years, and sees hope for a career that was very much in question after he signed a five-year, $82 million deal with the Red Sox Dec. 14, 2009.
“I felt good,” he said of Tuesday’s outing. “Got to the number of pitches I wanted to get up to. Got up six times. Got what I needed accomplished and keep moving forward. I was trying to get my work in, honestly. Being on the back field on an offday, you know, motivation was a little bit of an issue I guess.”
Lackey seems uneasy discussing his past elbow issues, and undoubtedly is hoping for the day when he doesn’t have to speak of them.
“It’s not a situation of thinking about the elbow,” he said. “Just trying to get my pitches in and improve on things I need to do to get ready for the season. Everybody who has surgery has doubt, for sure, when you first start throwing. Got a big zipper in my arm for a reason.”
But he said that fear about the elbow is long gone.
“At the end of last season when I came down here and threw two innings, I felt pretty good that things went well and I had a normal offseason and that was nice in terms of confidence coming into this season,” he said.
Pitching coach Juan Nieves said, “It’s been a smooth ride, even after the stress of throwing three innings, four innings, five innings twice. And where I’ve seen the best results is in the bullpens. That’s when you really see it, because every five days guys are going to be well-rested and recharged. But when you see guys throwing a very healthy bullpen, that’s wonderful. His bullpens have been full 44 and 45 pitches. So that shows me health.”
Nieves has had the pitchers focusing on their tempo. Lackey always has been a fast worker.
“I’ve noticed a difference, Juan brought that over,” said Lackey. “That was a point of emphasis, but it’s something I’ve tried to do throughout my career. It’s been a pretty easy transition for me. Buck [Clay Buchholz] has such good stuff, he just needs to keep the momentum going and attack guys.”
Nieves said, “I’m a firm believer that it increases the consistency. It gets you in the rhythm of pitching. It hurts our beer vendors, but it helps us.”
Looking back on the entire rehab process, Lackey said, “Being a little bit older made it a little bit harder. Be easier if I was 24 coming back, for sure. You just can’t push it. There’s just so much your elbow can take early on. You do a lot of shoulder exercises because you can only do a certain amount of things for the elbow in one day. It kind of helps the whole arm. You get a little rest and you wind up coming back a little stronger.”
He was throwing 93 miles per hour. When asked if he had more left in the tank, he said, “Hope so. Back field on an offday . . . there might be a little something more when the stadium gets a little bigger.”
And it will at Rogers Centre, against the team many believe might be the best in baseball.
The Sox released first baseman Lyle Overbay out of his minor league contract and he immediately signed with the Yankees. Overbay was in a battle with Mike Carp, Daniel Nava, and Ryan Sweeney for the 24th and 25th spots on the roster. It appears the Sox feel comfortable enough with Carp and Nava at first base to back up Mike Napoli . . . The Sox will re-examine center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury today. He has a sore right ankle after rolling it trying to get back to first base on a pickoff attempt Sunday vs. the Phillies. Ellsbury could be cleared to play, as the injury was thought to be minor . . . Shortstop Stephen Drew is taking grounders, and the Sox soon should know when Drew can appear in a game . . . The Sox play the Marlins Wednesday at 1:35 at JetBlue Park, with Jon Lester making his final start before Opening Day.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.