Lackey starts season with loss — of a few pounds
FORT MYERS, Fla. — How bad was it?
Despite popular perception, John Lackey wasn’t a total meatball artist last year. In 33 starts, Lackey went 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA. He led the Sox with 215 innings and struck out 156. Only 14 American League pitchers won more games than Lackey. So how come Lackey gets the Way Back Wasdin treatment everywhere he goes?
Probably because of the five-year, $82.5 million contract he signed before the start of last season. It might also have something to do with the fact that Lackey allowed 233 hits and 72 walks. He put a ton of guys on base and got a lot of wins because the Sox offense gave him plenty of support when he pitched. Oh, and let’s not forget that sun-starved stat geeks insist wins are overrated.
Was Lackey disappointed in his first season in Boston?
“Honestly, I think it was overblown a little bit,’’ the big righty said yesterday. “I’ve only won more than 14 games once [19 in 2007] in my life. I think I led the team in quality starts and innings. Whatever . . . that’s kind of what comes with it.’’
What makes him think the negativity was overblown?
“I’ve been asked about it about 400 times since I’ve been here,’’ he said.
“I’m not saying I pitched great. I’m not saying that at all. I definitely could have pitched better. Absolutely. I agree with that. I’m not worried about last year, honestly. I feel good about this year and I’m kind of moving forward.’’
He’s moving forward with a new body, a new defense, and even more offensive support.
Lackey was a little lumpy in 2010. Today, he’s considerably more sculpted. He did a lot of running during the offseason. He said he watched tons of “SportsCenter’’ while on the treadmill in Newport Beach. He said he’s down to 241 from 252 last year, but the differential looks greater.
“Boy, he looks good,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “Any time somebody steps into camp, whether they’re 22 or 32, and they look like they worked really hard, we’re thrilled. It’s not an easy thing to do. When you become a veteran guy, it’s not easy to change your body. He’s obviously spent a lot of time and hard work doing that. We hope that translates to the field. I can’t see how it’s going to hurt him.’’
Carl Crawford should help, too. In every way.
Lackey made a veiled reference to his new left fielder when he said, “I definitely pitch to contact moreso than some of the guys and I think our improved outfield defense will definitely help for sure.’’
There’s code there. Lackey is telling you that one of the reasons for his inflated 2010 numbers was the Sox’ subpar defense.
Lackey’s a bit of a contradiction in this area. He won the seventh game of the World Series on three days of rest when he was a 24-year-old rookie. He doesn’t make excuses about personal issues even though his wife suffered a miscarriage last spring and is currently battling breast cancer (Lackey wore a pink power bracelet yesterday and told WEEI that his wife is doing well). Francona speaks of Lackey as a “stand-up guy,’’ and that was Lackey’s M.O. when he pitched for the Angels.
But too often he tells us that he pitched OK when the numbers say something else. And sometimes his body language bothers teammates when they fail to make plays. That’s unfortunate and unnecessary. Lackey is thoroughly equipped to be a Sox leader, on and off the field.
Pitching in the American League East is tough on every hurler. But pitching for the Red Sox has its advantages. When Lackey was asked how he reacted to the acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Crawford, he said, “Pretty cool. It tells me I made a good decision. One of the reasons you come to a place like this is that they have that capability and you have a chance to win a ring every year.’’
The drawbacks are obvious. He hears the hoots more in Boston than in Orange County.
“If I had that  year in Anaheim, I’d have probably had a 3.60 [ERA], my normal deal,’’ he said. “I’d have probably had less wins, though, because they didn’t score any runs.
“I definitely think I learned a lot. It was kind of a season you just brushed aside and think about the next one. It was disappointing, more for team goals than anything. I’m more concerned about the team thing, making the playoffs and winning rings. I want to give the team a chance to win when I go out there.’’
He does that. Take the money out of it. Take the excuses out of it. Lackey is a workhorse who almost always keeps his team in the game. That should be enough in Boston in 2011.
Then again, we all know it’s almost never enough in Boston.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.