Fixing John Lackey 'big priority'

Updated: September 30, 2011, 2:03 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- When asked what was wrong with pitcher John Lackey, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein did not roll his eyes or throw up his hands in disgust.

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He simply acknowledged there are physical, mental and fundamental issues with the veteran right-hander and that the team will do everything it can to make sure the organization gets proper return on its five-year, $82.5 million investment.

Lackey certainly hasn't lived up to expectations over his first two seasons in Boston, and his on-field demeanor has drawn nearly as much attention as his poor production.

His numbers were not good in 2011 with a 12-12 record and a 6.41 ERA in 28 starts. He dealt with health and personal issues, and was brutal at the start of the season. He did turn it around in the second half, but fell apart again in September, along with the rest of the Red Sox pitching staff.

There have been plenty of times during his career with the Red Sox, especially this season, when Lackey has rolled his eyes and his body language has shown disgust, anger and frustration, seemingly showing up his teammates.

Players, and even Francona, said time and again this season that they weren't bothered by it because Lackey is a great teammate. The manager reiterated that on Thursday.

"I don't think we can put in a guy's contract that if he's going to make a certain amount of money, he can't roll his eyes," Francona said. "I don't think guys in the clubhouse have a problem with Lack, nor do I. I think we certainly wish it had gone better on the mound, but I haven't had a problem with Lack at all."

Epstein admitted that fixing Lackey would be a priority this season.

"As far as rehabilitating John Lackey, I think it's a big priority for obvious reasons and we have to attack it from a physical perspective and see if there are things we can do differently with him physically to put him in a better position to have success on the mound.

"We have to attack it from a fundamental standpoint. There are obviously things we can do differently with him fundamentally to get his stuff and his command back to where it was.

"And then from a mental standpoint, and those are the three areas we attack with players. We're going to leave no stone unturned, really with all of our players and the organization as a whole from those three standpoints."

Epstein also addressed the body language issue, and he too did not sound overly concerned about it.

"I will say this about rolling his eyes and whatnot, that's nothing new. John has always been emotional on the mound," he said. "He's always been demonstrative. It kind of looks bad on the field, it looks as though he's showing up his teammates. It was that way in Anaheim, too.

"It was that way when we signed him and we also knew he always apologizes the next day. He's always a great teammate, except for those times when he's rolling his eyes, but his teammates forgive him and they understand. He's tried to change, but it's something he can't change. It's an emotional reaction and we'll continue to work with him on it, but that doesn't make him a bad teammate.

"Behind the scenes he's actually well-respected and well-liked. I know it doesn't look that way on the field sometimes when he's reacting to bad results. But, yes, we'll continue to work with him on that. More importantly, address issues physically, mentally and fundamentally."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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