Lackey living up to expectations

Lackey living up to expectations

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Joining the Red Sox as a free agent this offseason, John Lackey knew the expectations would be high in his new home.

That's OK, he has reiterated throughout this spring. He is looking forward to it -- the pressure of playing for some of the most rabid fans in baseball, the playoff-like atmosphere for every game at Fenway Park.

Bring it on.

So far, his Spring Training outings have done nothing to show that he's not up to the challenge. In three Grapefruit League starts, spanning nine innings, he has yet to allow a run or a walk. He has given up five hits, striking out three.

"I'm throwing the ball pretty well," said Lackey, who received a no-decision in Boston's 4-2 loss to the Mets on Wednesday. "But honestly, I'd probably like to maybe give up a couple runs. [I] don't want to bring them all north with me."

That last comment was said somewhat tongue-in-cheek after his outing Wednesday against the Mets, who got a firsthand look at Lackey's spring excellence. He pitched four scoreless innings, giving up two hits, striking out two, without issuing a walk.

"I feel pretty good," Lackey said. "My delivery's on time [and my] location's pretty good. [The] arm strength isn't quite there yet, but I'm working on it."

Lackey needed just 39 pitches, throwing 28 for strikes, to dispatch the Mets. His outing complete, he threw another 10 in the bullpen to get in a full day's work.

The mantra of any manager or pitching coach is for the pitcher to pound the strike zone. Lackey efficiently accomplished that mission.

"Boy, he sure did," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "First-pitch strikes, that was fun to watch. Let them put it in play. [He] threw his breaking ball for strikes. He threw everything for strikes. ... It was fun to watch.

"He works quick. There's not much not to like.

"He's going to throw it over the plate and he's going to work quick. Like he says, 'Win or lose, I'm going to get it done quickly and get it over with.' But the idea is everything you talk about: Get it, throw strikes, keep it down, let them hit it, and things work better that way."

Lackey, for one, is not surprised he hasn't issued a walk this spring.

"I don't walk too many people, honestly," he said. "I kind of expect that of myself, especially in Spring Training. If I get to three balls, most of the time I'll just throw it in [the strike zone]."

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Lackey can throw it in there, he's learning, as he develops confidence in the infield defense. Alex Cora opened the fourth inning with a sharp grounder off Lackey's foot, the ball careening to third baseman Adrian Beltre, who threw an off-balance laser to Kevin Youkilis at first for the out.

Lackey is familiar with Beltre from their days in the American League West, with the Angels and Mariners, respectively.

"I've checked him out," Lackey said. "It was fun on the days I wasn't pitching. He was something. Guys on our team, on the bench, we'd talk about, like, 'Damn, that dude can pick.' It was definitely impressive to watch him play defense.

"I'm going to need [that kind of infield defense], especially because I'm going to pound the strike zone. I'm not going to walk people, and I need those guys to make plays for me. It's a great team that's going to be able to do that. They turned a nice double play today for me. It's fun to have confidence in the guys behind you, that you can pound the strike zone and not worry about strikeouts. You know those guys are going to make plays."

Lackey should have three more Spring Training starts before heading north for Fenway and the opening series against the Yankees.

"[I'm] still building up arm strength and then tightening my breaking ball a little bit," Lackey said of his goals for those remaining starts. "Maybe get a few swings and misses with the breaking ball these last couple starts. But I feel like my delivery is pretty put together right now. ... It's more arm strength right now."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.