John Lackey has missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing off-season Tommy John surgery, but on Sunday, before Boston's game with the New York Yankees, the right-hander threw a bullpen session. Lackey threw 45 pitches -- manager Bobby Valentine said 35-37 of them were "excellent" -- and felt a "noticeable difference" from the last time he threw pitches in a major-league game in September of 2011.
Lackey received a cortisone injection in his elbow in May of 2011, an injury which he missed 21 games recovering from. While he was at first far more effective than the awful start that landed him on the disabled list to begin with, Lackey's elbow -- and effectiveness -- diminished in quality down the stretch. While MRIs showed no surgery-worthy tear in his elbow at the time of the first DL stint, things had changed by season's end, hence going under the knife before the year was out.
There's no definitive plan as of yet for Lackey to throw in a game in 2012, but it's possible he shows up in a minor-league contest before those seasons end, or in an Instructional League. General manager Ben Cherington hopes that, by pitching in a game before the season is over, Lackey can have a normal off-season.
While memories of the 2011 John Lackey are sure to make Red Sox fans squirm, and it's unlikely (okay, nigh impossible) he ever returns value on his five-year, $82.5 million contract, Tommy John surgery might have cleared things up for him enough to at least return to the realm of 2010, when he was an average hurler capable of throwing 200-plus innings. The 2012 Red Sox could have used an arm like that, and the 2013 Sox are likely no different. Average starters that take their turn 30-plus times are not worth $16 million a year, but they still provide value on the field simply by showing up and doing their job. Whether Lackey will do that or not is up for debate, but TJ should help the cause.