Britton: Lackey quickly wearing out welcome with Red Sox

Jul 7 2011 - 7:18pm

BOSTON -- Judging from the numbers and the noise on Monday, it seems safe to say that pitcher Boston Red Sox pitcher John Lackey and Fenway Park have developed a somewhat antagonistic relationship.

On Independence Day, Lackey was serenaded by boos as if he were a Redcoat and a not a Red Sox in Boston, the seven runs in 261/3 innings he allowed digging his team too big an early hole to overcome in a 9-7 loss to the Blue Jays.

This is hardly the first time Lackey has felt the wrath of the Fenway faithful during what is rapidly becoming a lost season for the right-hander. Monday marked a disheartening and disconcerting step back following last week's terrific -- albeit losing -- effort in Philadelphia, meaning Lackey's three-game winning streak in early June has now been matched by an equally long losing slide.

The Blue Jays hit Lackey all around Fenway Park on Monday, going 9-for-16 at the plate against him. To be fair, some of those hits, like Rajai Davis' leadoff double, weren't struck with much authority. But several of the others were rockets in anyone's terminology.

"I think the main thing is just control," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "He didn't have the accuracy he's normally got."

Amid rumors that his right elbow remains a source of pain -- Lackey went to the disabled list with a right elbow sprain in May -- the right-hander has dismissed such talk. He said on Monday that his arm felt fine -- a thought backed up by the 94 mph he hit on the gun during the game. He added that he's dealing with nothing more than the residual wear-and-tear of a 10-year big-league veteran -- "definitely nothing that's going to keep (him) from pitching."

If Lackey is indeed healthy, his woes are all the more flummoxing. As frustrating as his first season in Boston was, it wasn't necessarily poor. He won 14 games, and his ERA was only a tad north of the league average. He was disappointing, especially when viewed through the prism of his contract.

This season, Lackey has been plain bad -- confoundingly so for someone with his track record. This is a pitcher that has won at least 10 games eight years running. He's led the league in ERA (3.01 in 2007), he's won 19 games and he's won Game Seven of the World Series.

And as of July 4 this season, he has an ERA to match a jumbo jet: 7.47.

Asked if this is the most puzzling stretch of his career, Lackey didn't hesitate.

"Yeah. If you look at my career, yeah," he said. "It's pretty obvious."

Lackey takes a certain pride in his ability to compete and keep his team in the game. It was this quality that manager Terry Francona cited when naming Lackey his No. 2 starter back in spring training.

"Every time he pitches, he's going to give you a chance to win, regardless of who he matches up against," Francona said back in March. "You look up in the seventh (inning) and you've got a chance to win, which we really like."

That certainly wasn't the case on Monday, and the larger problem is that it hasn't been the case for the majority of Lackey's starts. After all, this one wasn't unique. By most metrics, it's not the worst, or even second-worst, start that Lackey has had this season. Instead, it fits neatly into a group of starts in which Lackey did little to give the Red Sox a chance to win.

He has allowed six or more earned runs five times this season -- second most in the A.L.. The rest of the Red Sox staff has combined to do it four times. His eight losses account for nearly one-third of the total suffered by Boston starters this season. He's averaging fewer than six innings per start. Just past the midpoint of the season, someone counted on for 200 innings has thrown 72-1/3.

All those numbers are exacerbated when you limit the scope to his starts at his home ballpark. One of the main concerns when Lackey was signed was his history at Fenway Park. He alleviated some of those fears in 2010, but so far in 2011, his ERA at home is a ghastly 9.17. He's allowed an astonishing 70 baserunners in 3461/3 innings at Fenway this season. In his last two starts here, he's yielded 20 baserunners and recorded 17 outs.

"Just continue to work hard," Lackey said when asked what he could do to alter the course of his season. "I've made a lot of adjustments kind of on the fly. Hopefully some of those will start to turn into results here soon."

The Red Sox certainly hope so. The Boston fans are already restless; the team may not be far behind.

 

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