John Lackey to face hitters for first time since Tommy John surgery

Sidelined all season after Tommy John elbow surgery, John Lackey said he is “excited’’ to throw to hitters for the first time Saturday, and expressed optimism about taking the next step in his recovery, which he hoped would lead to an appearance in a game by the end of the month.

“I’m excited, because it just means I’m moving forward,’’ Lackey said before Friday night’s 7-5 loss to the Blue Jays. “I haven’t had any real setbacks and it feels good, so I’m definitely excited.’’

Lackey went 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA last season and was on the disabled list from May 12-June 5. He underwent surgery Nov. 1 to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

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Lackey said he threw five or six bullpen sessions in preparation for Saturday.

“I don’t know if he’s fully recovered but he sure is close,’’ said manager Bobby Valentine. “He’s really thrown the ball well.’’

Said Lackey, “This will be the first time someone is actually going to be standing in there taking whacks at me.’’

Asked how much of his repertoire he planned to feature, Lackey said, “I’m going to throw everything. I’m not throwing my cutter yet, but I’m just throwing curveball and changeup. I’m just trying to throw mostly four-seamers, and get my arm speed and get my arm strength back.’’

Lackey said he was more focused on “just locating. I’m just building my arm strength right now, but I just need the reps more than anything.’’

“It feels like it’s been forever,’’ he said of reaching the point where he can face hitters. “It’s been 10 months of rehabbing. It’s exciting stuff, but it’s just another part of it.”

Valentine was not certain what offseason program Lackey expected to follow.

“Don’t have that mapped out yet,’’ Valentine said. “I think he’ll continue to work hard. He’s worked hard all season. Don’t know that he’ll throw much in the offseason, just keep it loose.’’

No Ortiz update

Valentine had “nothing earth-shattering’’ to report on the progress of designated hitter David Ortiz, who underwent a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection for his strained right Achilles’ tendon before the team’s 1-8 West Coast trip.

“I haven’t heard anything about any baseball activities that are planned,’’ Valentine said.

Valentine declined to say whether it was unlikely Ortiz would return before the end of the season.

Ben [Cherington, general manager] mentioned that to me the other day, but I’m not sure that’s the official word yet,’’ Valentine said. “He just said to be prepared just in case [Ortiz is] not going to come back.’’

Asked if it was prudent to shut down Ortiz, Valentine replied, “It’s not really my call. I mean, if he’s healthy — and he loves to play the game of baseball — he could always go out there and bat it around a little. But I’d hate to jeopardize his career, that’s for sure.’’

You again

Clayton Mortensen is back with the club after being recalled Tuesday from Double A Portland. He did not allow a run in six of his nine outings after his last recall from Triple A Pawtucket Aug. 8, and worked two scoreless innings (with four strikeouts) Friday night. “That’s the business side of the game,’’ Mortensen said of his five demotions this season. “I was just the one who drew the unlucky stick this year. But I knew coming in that I was going to be a swing guy. I was fine with it. I think I set myself up decently enough for next year and have given them a good enough idea of what I can do and who I am.’’ Said Valentine: “He’s pitched extremely well for us and it’s been one of the regrets we’ve always had, sending him back to the minor leagues. He’s thrown a lot of innings where he’s been exceptional. If he can carry that into next year, he’ll definitely have a role.’’ . . . Valentine lauded the effort of Scott Atchison in Triple A Pawtucket’s 2-0 victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Thursday night in the second game of the best-of-five International League playoffs. Atchison, who had been on the DL since July 14 with right forearm tightness, earned the win during his rehab assignment after tossing 1 scoreless frames. “Atch got the win and he threw the ball well,’’ Valentine said. “That’s really good news.’’ . . . Will Middlebrooks, on the DL since Aug. 11 with a broken right wrist, had an X-ray Aug. 31 that revealed his injury continues to heal, but not likely quickly enough to get him back before the end of the season. Middlebrooks indicated he was likely to remain in his cast for two more weeks before taking another two weeks to regain strength . . . Although they welcomed back third baseman Brett Lawrie and catcher J.P. Arencibia from the DL, the Blue Jays shut down lefthander J.A. Happ (right foot) for the season. Happ was expected to start Saturday opposite Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Jays will go with lefthander Aaron Laffey instead . . . University of Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar, whose Minutemen will make their debut as a Football Bowl Subdivision team Saturday’s against Indiana at Gillette Stadium, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He threw a strike.