BOSTON - His poor 2011 season, the boos of the home crowd and Tommy John surgery behind him, John Lackey appears to be settling in as the No. 3 man in the Boston Red Sox starting rotation.
"I feel like my arm strength is getting better, the endurance is getting better. Things are going on the right track," Lackey said after his second straight strong performance Friday night, when he went seven rain-soaked innings in Boston's 8-1 win over the Cleveland Indians.
"It's been a lot of fun, for sure," he said. "It's fun to get back in there with the guys, a great group of guys to compete with. Have success, and be healthy and just not fighting a whole lot of other things, being able to execute pitches feeling pretty good."
Lackey, 3-4 in his comeback season from the surgery that cost him 2012, gave up two hits and an unearned run in the third inning, but didn't allow another hit in his second straight win. He walked three and struck out eight while out-pitching Cleveland ace and former Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson (7-3).
In his 13 innings over his last two starts, Lackey hasn't allowed an earned run and has yielded just three hits.
"The one thing that he's maintained is his stuff overall," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "And considering the surgery he's come off of, I think it's a testament to the work that he puts in in between starts.
"As far as execution, it's been a high number of first-pitch strikes. He's been ahead in the count, not just the last two starts but I think the majority of this year, and because of that he's been able to go to some secondary pitches to finish hitters off."
Lackey, asked about the negatives (like 2011) being behind him, said, "Mostly, you guys won't let me forget about it. I had one bad year and needed surgery afterwards. It's not like I've never been good before."
As far as his arm strength, he finished Nick Swisher off with a 93 mph fastball for the last out of the sixth inning.
"He had velocity," said Terry Francona, Lackey's former manager in Boston and now the Indians manager. "He ended up throwing that cutter very effectively, kind of ran it in on our lefties. As he got more successful with it, he started bringing it off the plate a little bit, opening up the rest of the plate."
Mike Carp snapped an 0-for-21 spell with a three-run homer in the second inning and Boston, 9-12 over the last 21 games, broke things open with four runs in the seventh.
Carp, who will get more playing time with Shane Victorino placed on the disabled list Friday, hit his third homer in the second inning, his fourth hit in eight at-bats against Masterson. The Sox got another run in the sixth on an RBI fielder's choice grounder by Mike Napoli, and Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia both delivered two-run singles in the seventh.
Boston remained a game behind the Yankees in the AL East.
The loss, the third in the last four games, dropped the previously surging Indians out of first place in the AL Central, a half-game behind the Tigers.
Masterson, who had won his three previous starts and had allowed no runs in 16 innings in his last two, worked six-plus innings in this one and saw a 20-inning scoreless streak snapped by Carp's shot. Masterson left after a leadoff double by Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the seventh.
"This was probably the first one I didn't really feel the greatest," said Masterson. "I was hanging a lot of sliders ... I just got into some bad counts."
Francona, in his second game back at Fenway Park as an opposing manager, received ovations while making two pitching changes, both times bringing in former Red Sox pitchers. (Both Rich Hill and Matt Albers were ineffective in the seventh.)
The Red Sox are 4-1 against Francona's Indians this season, scoring 27 runs in the four wins.
It rained throughout the game, easing up at times. Heavy rain began falling about two hours before the scheduled game time, which was delayed 44 minutes. The game starting in a steady, blowing rain.
The Indians, down 3-0 after the Carp homer, got a run back in the third, thanks to a double steal and catcher Saltalamacchia's throwing error. Lackey escaped further trouble.
NOTES: The Indians got Swisher back from the paternity list after the birth of his first child. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, while fellow ex-Yankee Jason Giambi was also 0-for-4 and is in an 0-for-26 tailspin to drop to .150. Both get booed at Fenway for being Yankees. ... The Indians optioned 2B Cord Phelps. ... The Red Sox had a bit of a roster shakeup with three health-related moves. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks (back) and Victorino (hamstring) were both disabled, Victorino retroactive to May 21, and INF Jose Iglesias and RHP Alfredo Aceves were recalled from Pawtucket. Also, C David Ross was activated from the concussion DL and C Ryan Lavarnway was returned to Triple-A. ... In four starts with the PawSox after his demotion, Aceves was 2-1 with a 3.13 ERA and he pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Friday... Middlebrooks was in an 0-for-11 slump that dropped his batting average to .201. ... Iglesias, a shortstop prospect, made his second career start at 3B on Friday, both appearances coming in the last three days. He was 1-for-3 and is hitting .435 in the majors this season ... Indians LHP Scott Kazmir (2-2) continues his comeback attempt when he faces Boston LHP Jon Lester (6-1) in Game 3 of the series on Saturday.