John Lackey bounces back, sticks through eight innings

April 23, 2014 - 8:33 pm
John Lackey knew what he needed to do tonight against the Yankees. Following two sticky starts against the Yankees and Orioles where he allowed six runs over 5 2/3 and 5 1/3 innings, respectively, Lackey needed to turn in a strong performance to help save a taxed bullpen. Lackey needed to be the pitcher he was in his first two starts of the season, when he allowed a total of two earned runs over 13 innings pitched. But Lackey wasn't focused on turning around his own individual performance. Instead, Lackey focused in on putting forth a performance that would give the bullpen a rest and set up the rest of the pitching staff moving forward over the next couple of days. Lackey did just that. "I really wasn't thinking about [turning things around]," Lackey said. "I was thinking about trying to give the bullpen rest, for sure. We've got some guys down there that have been worked pretty good the last week or so and we're trying to give those guys a little bit of a breather and win a ballgame." Through his eight-inning outing, Lackey tarred the corners pitch after pitch with strikes, befuddling the Yankee lineup at the plate all night. The hurler struck out a season-high 11 hitters for his third win of the season. The outing marked his highest strikeout output since July 26, 2013 versus Colorado when he punched 12 Rockies. Lackey turned around his performance through a slight adjustment in the game plan. Through the early innings of the game, Lackey mixed his pitches more, throwing his curveball in the early innings instead of pounding away with high fastball. "The one in New York, I definitely missed some locations and I didn't pitch very well," Lackey said. "I thought that my last one could've been a lot better considering a few little things. I didn't make too crazy adjustments. I just tried to a little bit more of a mix with my pitches a little bit earlier on." "The usage of a sharp breaking ball.," said Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves. "He defined his breaking ball a lot more, from curveball to cutter. He threw some changeups. He threw some more two-seamers to left-handed hitters. He kept the ball on the ground a lot more. A little plan we had after the outing in New York. He's such a strong competitor that sometimes going away from familiarity (is tough). It was great disposition from him, and it showed he could open his repertoire and use more pitches." All night, Lackey located his pitches at will all night, throwing 76 percent of his 111 pitches for strikes. The dominant command led Lackey to his success against the Yankee lineup, highlighted by his four punch outs of Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. "The biggest things was that he was putting the ball where he wanted it to," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "He was able to throw multiple pitches and he had put away pitches. The last couple of outings, he's been a little bit off and I know him and Juan had talked and made a couple of adjustments, but tonight, he was spot on." The balance between a sharp breaking ball and Lackey's usual strong fastball keyed the righty into a successful outing. "He's always been trustworthy on his fastball," Nieves said. "I thought overall, using four-seamers and two-seamers is very important for him. Also, defining his breaking ball and keeping the gap between the curveball and the cutter. Sometimes when pitchers have both pitches they make a hybrid pitch and throw some slurries. I thought defining his breaking ball was important, with him throwing his hard breaking ball and then changing speed to his other breaking ball, his curveball" Throughout the outing, Lackey balanced pounding the strike zone with catching too much of the plate. "There is such thing as too many strikes if you're hitting the white part of the plate too much," Lackey said. "I was fortunate enough tonight to be hitting the corners more times than not and AJ called a good game. We had a good mix going. It wasn't like I was throwing one pitch for a strike. I was able to mix it up a little bit and that helped." Knowing the predicament with the bullpen, Lackey put it upon his shoulders to go out and stick around  deep into the game to give the worn down relievers some rest. "It was a challenge and a motivation, for sure," Lackey said. "It's not something I haven't done before. I've been the guy to go Opening Day a few times so it's something that I'm capable of and expect out of myself."