Walk on the wild side for Lackey
He issues five free passes in five innings as Sox allow Phillies to cruise
PHILADELPHIA — As he got through start after start in spring training with walks few and far between, John Lackey kept saying he wanted to give up some runs, perhaps walk a few batters, to get it out of his system before he headed north.
Those fears proved to have a foundation, as the starter known for his control and ability to pitch well in big spots hasn’t done either particularly well.
Last night, a walk to Ryan Howard, one of five in Lackey’s five innings, proved just as costly as some of the hits he allowed, as Jayson Werth followed that with a home run to left that gave the Phillies a 4-1 lead in the fifth.
“The consistency of command has not been game to game as I think he would expect, or everyone else,’’ pitching coach John Farrell said after the Red Sox dropped a 5-1 decision to the Phillies. “His checkpoints are clearly to have him stay up on the rubber a little bit longer to allow his arm swing to catch up, and be able to particularly throw the ball to his glove side of the plate or down and away to righthanders.
“His delivery is rather simple, and yet the execution of it has not been quite as he’s shown from outing to outing. It’s a matter of continuing to work and refining and repeating the checkpoints of his delivery to command the baseball.’’
Lackey, though, didn’t believe his command was an issue.
“Not at all,’’ Lackey said, when asked if he was concerned by his walk total. “When you’re playing in one-run games in this ballpark, you can’t give in. I think only one of them scored. That’s all that matters.’’
Lackey is correct that few of his walks have led directly to runs. Of his 26 free passes this season, just six have crossed the plate. But that doesn’t take into account how that has changed his outings, driving up his pitch counts, contributing to earlier exits. Four of those walks-becoming-runs have come in his last three starts, in which he has walked 12 overall.
Coming into this season, Lackey av eraged just 2.6 walks per nine innings and 2.72 strikeouts per walk in eight seasons with the Angels.
Lackey is up to 4.25 walks per nine innings and down to 1.31 strikeouts per walk with the Sox. That’s not exactly what the Sox believed they were buying with $82.5 million over five years.
So, is there anything Lackey can point to as an explanation?
“Not really,’’ he said. “Can’t get into that.’’
Lackey has allowed at least five runs in each of his last three starts, giving up 16 runs over 18 innings in that span.
His performance ended a string of stellar starts for the Sox. Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester dominated the Twins at Fenway Park the past two games.
“They make every pitcher work,’’ manager Terry Francona said of the Phillies. “They have guys that are willing to go deep in the count, to try to get ahead. There’s a reason they’re as good as they are offensively. They’re almost like an American League [team], and I don’t mean that as a slight to the National League.’’
When Lackey was faced with full counts last night, he often went to his breaking ball to combat the success the Phillies generally have against fastballs. Lackey went to 3 and 2 on six hitters, and walked three on curveballs. Another curveball, to Werth in the fourth, resulted in a double (albeit one that right fielder J.D. Drew lost in the dark sky). Werth came around to score on Shane Victorino’s single one out later. Howard had started the inning with a homer.
The Phillies scored four runs in five innings off Lackey, adding another against Joe Nelson. It was too much, as the Sox couldn’t solve Cole Hamels, who struck out eight in seven innings.
After Victor Martinez’s home run in the first, Hamels allowed just two base runners (a single by Darnell McDonald and a walk to Drew) until Adrian Beltre hit a ground-rule double to left with two outs in the seventh, a span of 20 batters.
“We made him work hard, but he has that ability, even when you get deep in the count, he has that changeup kind of sitting in his back pocket,’’ Francona said. “Command of his fastball, threw it in to righties. He’s got a few ways to get you out.’’
The Sox failed to get three games above .500, a position they have yet to occupy this season. They had won three straight coming in, but Lackey couldn’t help continue the hot streak.
“I haven’t pitched my best, by any means,’’ he said. “Just been multiple things kind of going on. It’s been a little tough luck here and there, lack of execution a little bit too . . . Really, the pitch to Werth [for the homer] was really pretty much all I would take back.
“Gave up the one homer that probably doesn’t go out anywhere but here [Howard’s], and then the one that goes out pretty much anywhere [Werth’s].’’
The Sox did have a chance, though. Down by four runs in the ninth inning, they got the tying run to the plate in the person of David Ortiz. With two outs and the bases loaded, Ortiz faced lefthander J.C. Romero with the chance to extend the game. He chased Victorino to the warning track in center, where he tracked down Big Papi’s bid for the final out.
Asked if he thought the ball had a chance to go out, Ortiz said, “Always.’’