Thursday, February 14, 2013 Updated: February 15, 4:00 AM ET
John Lackey ready to rise again
By Joe McDonald ESPNBoston.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Intermittent torrential rainstorms throughout Thursday morning and early into the afternoon forced the Boston Red Sox to work out inside.
After pitcher John Lackey finished his day, he was on his way out of the clubhouse when a security guard told him of the nasty weather, and instructed him to walk through the building to the exit closest to the player's parking lot in order to stay dry.
"I'm not made of sugar," Lackey responded.
And off he went through the rain.
There's been a lot of focus on Lackey in the early part of spring training. He arrived at camp in tremendous shape. It's the best the right-hander has looked since arriving in Boston prior to the 2010 season with a five-year deal worth $82.5 million.
John Lackey confers with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia during a spring training session.
Even before he signed with the Red Sox, both Lackey and the club knew he had elbow issues that would likely eventually need surgery. He posted a 14-11 record with a 4.40 ERA in his first season, and then in 2011, his elbow began to give him problems.
Many of his teammates and those close to Lackey say it was an impressive feat to see him pitch in 2011 despite the pain. He finished with a 12-12 record and a 6.41 ERA before undergoing Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the entire 2012 season.
Lackey's teammates, both former and current, will talk about his dedication and call him one of the best players to have on your team. However, the fan perception, especially in Boston, is much different.
Lackey has heard all of the negativity surrounding his career with Boston, as well as the team's downfall the last few seasons, and he wants nothing more than to silence those critics.
"There's definitely some motivation," he said. "I was excited about getting down here. I got down here early and I feel like it's one of my first couple of years again. The excitement has been pretty cool."
He rehabbed all of last season and reached a point where he was able to throw in an instructional league game after the Sox's season ended. He continued his offseason workouts and conducted strength training every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He also met with a physical therapist for his elbow on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
"I was staying on top of that rehab stuff just because I didn't want to lose what I gained all year rehabbing last year, so I continued that through the offseason," he said.
His ride in Boston hasn't been a smooth one, and he'll admit that. On the field, all he wants to do is win. As far as describing his Red Sox career to this point, Lackey paused and thought about his answer.
"I don't know. I mean, it's been rough. There have been some rough spots," he said. "The first year, I had a decent year and the second year, obviously, I had a bad year. I wasn't feeling real good during that year.
"You want to pitch well. You want fans to like you, that's pretty human. All I can control is going out there with my effort level and hope things will work out."
Despite the perception that he doesn't like to play in Boston, and would rather return to Anaheim, where he spent his entire career before signing with the Red Sox, Lackey said he does like playing in Boston.
"Yeah, I'm having fun. It's a fun city. I've got some friends on this team that I'll be friends with forever, so those are definitely positive things," he said. "[Fans] hear things from people who don't know. You'd like a better perception, but more importantly is how the guys in this room feel about me."
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He has set his goals for 2013 and they include reaching the 200-inning mark for the sixth time in his 11-year career. He also wants to pitch in the postseason for the Red Sox.
"Reaching 200 innings is a big deal for me, it always has been," he said. "I'd like to be healthy and I feel like if you get to that mark, you've been pretty competitive and have given yourself a pretty good chance to win. And we want to be back in the playoffs, man. That's one of the reasons I came over here is for a chance to win. We have a fresh start here and I think that's everybody's goal in here."
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino arrived in camp on Thursday and spoke about his expectations for the upcoming season for the entire organization, including what he would like to see from Lackey.
"I've liked what I've heard about John already," Lucchino said. "I actually think he's a very key member of this team and he's a well-liked teammate and the fact that he's reported in such good physical condition, and appears to have his heart and head set on all the right goals is really encouraging to me. I'm not going to predict a number of wins for him, but I certainly hope it'll be well into the double digits."
Lackey's offseason preparation is a true indication to new Red Sox manager John Farrell that the veteran is serious about his work. Farrell liked the fact that Lackey arrived in camp early and in shape. His bullpens sessions have been productive, but more importantly he's been healthy.
"It's almost a fresh start for him physically, but when you look at the way he's committed and restructured his body, it speaks in confidence when you talk with him one-on-one," Farrell said.
"We're going to need him, I know that. We also recognize the first year back from Tommy John, he's going to go through some peaks and valleys, arm-strength wise, but in my view, it's going to affect him less because of the way he throws the ball on such a downhill plane versus more of a drop-and-drive pitcher who might rely on velocity more consistently. He's in a good place right now."
There's one more place Lackey wants to be this season. He wants to be standing on the mound with the ball in his hand during Game 7 of the World Series. He remembers vividly what it felt like to win Game 7 and help the Angels to a championship as a 23-year-old during his rookie season in 2002.
Now, he wants to accomplish that in Boston.
"I've done it before," he said. "I can picture that."