Boston Red Sox pitcher John Lackey allowed three hits in 5 2/3 innings of work during a rehab start with the Pawtucket Red Sox on Tuesday night at McCoy Stadium.
PAWTUCKET â€“ If a cortisone shot can put an injured pitcher on the road to recovery, then everyone can start forming a line behind John Lackey.
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Since receiving an injection to quell the inflammation in his right elbow two weeks ago, Lackey has been able to make significant progress in his quest to return to Bostonâ€™s rotation. Tuesdayâ€™s minor-league appearance was just another step along the way, as Lackey looked the part of a major-league pitcher in Pawtucketâ€™s 5-4 win over Norfolk in 11 innings. The big righty lasted 5 2/3 innings for the PawSox, giving up one run â€“ a solo home run â€“ on three hits while striking out four and not walking a batter.
â€śMy elbow feels a lot better,â€ť said Lackey, on the disabled list since May 16. â€śCortisoneâ€™s a beautiful thing, I guess.â€ť
Lackey threw 63 pitches in the outing, 46 of which were for strikes. Among those 63 pitches was a steady mix of fastballs, curveballs, sliders and changeups. The McCoy radar gun showed him topping out at 94 miles per hour with his fastball generally residing in the 91-93 range.
â€śI showed all my pitches. Iâ€™ve never been a huge velocity guy. Iâ€™ve got to locate things and work off of that,â€ť Lackey said. â€śI was pitching like it was a regular game.â€ť
Manager Arnie Beyeler mentioned during his pregame confab that the 32-year-old Lackey was slated to throw four innings/70 pitches. The script changed as Lackey benefited from a free-swinging Norfolk club that recorded six first-pitch outs. The round tripper also came on Lackeyâ€™s initial offering of the at-bat as Matt Angle clocked a 93 mph offering into the bleachers in right-center with two down in the third.
â€śYoung guys like to hack when a big-league pitcher comes down,â€ť said a smiling Lackey, who attacked the Tides with major-league baseballs, which has become standard procedure whenever a MLB pitcher rehabs.
Lackey then added that he felt encouraged that he was able to release his pitches â€śfree and easy.â€ť He required 19 pitches to set down the Tides in the first inning, which was the most he threw in a single frame.
â€śMy arm was feeling good, but I definitely had to dial in as it relates to location, thatâ€™s for sure,â€ť said Lackey.
The added bonus of seeing live batters in an actual game didnâ€™t hurt either, according to Lackey. He last made a rehab start in 2009, when he had two starts for Angelsâ€™ Triple-A affiliate after starting that season on the D.L. with a strained forearm.
â€śThis oneâ€™s not a whole lot different because Iâ€™m not going to be down here too long,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™ve been on the D.L. before where youâ€™re going to get two, three starts and you progress and work on different things. But today, I pretty much had to treat it like a real game.â€ť
Lackey feels that heâ€™s on track to return Sunday afternoon against Oakland at Fenway Park.
â€śIâ€™m encouraged for sure,â€ť Lackey said. â€śItâ€™s up to [the front office] but Iâ€™d be ready to go.â€ť
Brandon Duckworth followed Lackey, who was showered with a warm ovation by the sparse crowd of 3,181 when Beyeler made a pitching change in the sixth. A mixture of boos and cheers greeted Lackey when he was introduced prior to the game, which is something he clearly took notice of.
â€śThere was a little bit of both to be honest,â€ť said Lackey.
Duckworth surrendered a two-run home run to the second Tides hitter he faced, which was part of a 4 1/3-inning, three-run relief stint. Norfolk took a 4-3 lead in the top of the 11th but Hideki Okajima gave the PawSox hitters a chance after getting out of a first-and-third jam. Daniel Nava picked a fine time for his first home run, a solo shot to tie the game at 4-4.
The rally continued as Brent Dlugach singled and Luis Exposito, who blasted his first Triple-A home run in the fourth, reached on an error. A bunt by Jose Iglesias positioned runners at second and third and with two down Tony Thomas capped things off with a sharp single, scoring Dlugach.
Lackey muttered something to the effect of, â€śtheyâ€™ve been sending you up and down a lot,â€ť as he walked past Michael Bowdenâ€™s locker. Lackey does have a point, since Wednesday marked the end of Bowdenâ€™s second stint with Boston this month. At least the righthander appeared in a game before getting farmed out, which wasnâ€™t the case in Bowdenâ€™s first call-up (May 18-21). On Monday the 24-year-old gave the parent clubâ€™s bullpen a break with two scoreless innings against the White Sox.
Bowden is well-versed regarding how the game is played. He still has options remaining, meaning thereâ€™s a good chance heâ€™ll be the sacrificial lamb when the Sox make a move with their bullpen.
â€śI feel grateful that Iâ€™m the guy here that if they need somebody that they have faith in me to go up and help them out,â€ť Bowden said. â€śIâ€™m happy in the position Iâ€™m in. I came into the season expecting this. Whenever they need something or whenever I get the opportunity, Iâ€™m going to do whatever I can.â€ť
If anything Bowdenâ€™s confidence has grown based on the faith Boston has already displayed.
â€śTheyâ€™ve told me that theyâ€™re not afraid to call me up, and theyâ€™ve showed me that,â€ť he said. â€śJust go down (to Pawtucket) and keep pitching and something will happen.â€ť
EXTRA BASES: The caravan of pitchers with serious big-league credentials continues Wednesday night as Kevin Millwood will make his first start in a PawSox uniform. â€¦ Outfielder Darnell McDonald kicked off a rehab stint Wednesday, going hitless in three at-bats with a RBI. McDonald is on the D.L. with a strained left quad. â€¦ Former Bruins backup goalie and Lincoln resident Ross Brooks will throw out the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday, which is now a 6:05 start to accommodate Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. Fans are invited to hang around the ballpark after the game as the video board in right-center will remain on and show the Bruins-Canucks game, as will the video board on the terrace in left. Food and drink will also be provided. â€¦ First baseman Lars Anderson received the night off. â€¦ Matt Sheely collected his second multi-hit game in as many days. The outfielder was also picked off first base for the second consecutive day.