BOSTON -- Any time a high-priced free agent doesn't have a big year at the outset of his contract, fans are going to get restless, particularly in a market like Boston. But when it comes to right-hander John Lackey, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract last December, Red Sox manager Terry Francona hasn't lost any confidence that the investment will prove to be a good one.
Lackey has made 30 starts, going 12-11 with a 4.63 ERA and a .286 opponents' batting average. In his career with the Angels, he was 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA and a .263 opponents' batting average.
Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult parts of Lackey's adjustment has been moving to the American League East, which is arguably the most offensive-minded division in baseball.
"Well, it's different," said Francona. "You're running through the Yankees and Tampa bay, Toronto and Baltimore. It's no day at the beach. But saying that, you look up at his ERA and it's higher than he's probably comfortable with. It's like a guy hitting that's lower. Saying that, we love him.
"When [general manager] Theo [Epstein] told us that day he signed him, I was thrilled. I still am and I think three or four years from now, we're still going to be. It hasn't gone perfect. That doesn't mean [it can't be improved]. There's a lot of good things there. He's a stand-up guy. I don't know that everybody's going to have their career year every year. I wish it would happen. But it doesn't always work that way."
Lackey has frequently said this year that he's felt unlucky. After his outing in Oakland on Sept. 11, he stated that, "Honestly, I think I could pitch the exact same next year and have a totally different result."
Francona acknowledges that it's hard to pinpoint exactly why Lackey's numbers aren't quite what they've been in the past.
"It's a really hard one to put a finger on," Francona said. "I think a couple things -- you don't want to make excuses. At the same time you try to figure out over the course of a long year if you make pitches, do balls find holes? I guess that's why you use the word consistency because there's going to be times when balls find holes. And I do think Lack's been that guy sometimes.
"But runs still count and the scoreboard -- whatever the final outcome is, that's what it is. So I just think, like I said [Friday] night, when he's down and executing pitches he can be really good. [Friday] night, there were some misfires."