John Lackey Thought Exercise

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 29: John Lackey #41 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 29, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Red Sox 2-1. (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Listen. I know you guys and gals don't like John Lackey. Pass through the comments of any article that is about him -- and hey, even the ones that aren't -- and you're sure to find a lot more angry or mean things written about him than positive ones. It's understandable, in many ways, as his ERA just fell under seven in last night's start, and he is owed very large buckets full of money both this year and in the the future. 

That's the thing, though. Boston is stuck with John Lackey. He isn't going anywhere. His contract and his elbow issues will make sure of that, at least for a couple more seasons. With that in mind, everyone just relax, because we can't keep up this torrid pace of anti-Lackey enthusiasm through the length of his contract without losing our minds. I still don't think I've recovered fully from the Julio Lugo years, and I don't want to go through that again.

Do we have any legitimate reason to just take it easy with regards to Lackey, outside of preserving our sanity? He was absolutely awful before his disabled list stint, tossing 39-1/3 innings over seven starts, posting a Run Average of 8.01 and a K/BB ratio of 1.1 thanks to 19 strikeouts against 18 walks. He disappeared from mid-May until June 5, when he returned to throw a "just good enough" start against the A's, wherein he walked and struck out a pair of batters, but held the anemic Oakland offense to three runs over 5-2/3 frames. 

With one exception since -- and we'll get to that -- Lackey has been very good since returning from the DL stint for his elbow. His strikeouts are way up, his walks are way down, and while he has given up a few homers, his command looks like it is supposed to -- like it did during the second half of 2010 -- rather than the awful state it was in to start this year. 

Those five starts are marred by one performance, as stated, and it's last week's start against the Padres, when Lackey lasted just 3-1/3 innings while allowing four runs and giving up four walks, including a hit by pitch with the bases loaded. Supposedly, the inclement weather played a part in his loss of control. Though he wasn't very specific about anything in the brief post-game conference, it seemed that he couldn't grip the ball well after he came back out from the rain delay.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt,  if only for the purposes of this article, given his three starts before the rain-filled disaster and the start that came last night. Let's strike that start from the record, and just go with the other four he has had since returning. He has struck out 6.6 per nine in that stretch against 1.2 walks per nine, while allowing 0.7 homers per nine. That control won't last, but those are solid numbers. While we continue to attack Lackey and approach each start like it's the single worst event of our lifetimes, he has actually been pretty good since getting a shot in his elbow and spending time on the DL. Not great, mind you, but pretty good.

Of course, the issue is that we don't know how long it will last. His elbow must have felt fine last night, when he went 7-2/3 innings against the Phillies, allowing just two runs while striking out five and giving up one walk, but if/when the effects of the shot and the rest he got from going on the DL wear off, will he pitch like he did in April again? Will he need Tommy John surgery, as has been the buzz in the media the last 24 hours?

The answers to those questions are "probably" and "I'm not a doctor." The Red Sox are monitoring his elbow, making sure he stays healthy, and that's about all they can do at this point. Because they realize -- like we need to -- that Lackey is here to stay. Longer than we would like? That was the case the day he was signed. But it's reality, and he can't be shoved aside in the rotation unless he is hurt. We may as well make the best of it, and stop torturing ourselves about it. Lackey does enough of that for us, anyways.

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