Red Sox-Blue Jays Preview


John Lackey is slated to get the ball for the first time in 17 months, and he'd like to avoid dwelling on the past.

The Boston Red Sox would surely agree with their highest-paid player.

Lackey looks to begin putting Tommy John surgery behind him Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Lackey missed all of last season after undergoing elbow surgery. The right-hander last stepped on a mound in a meaningful game on Sept. 25, 2011, in the Bronx, where he pitched six innings to complete a month that saw him go 0-2 with a 9.13 ERA in five starts.

"I'm looking forward," Lackey said. "I'm not looking at elbow issues. Trying to go forward."

The Red Sox (3-1) would certainly prefer that approach since Lackey has struggled greatly to live up to the five-year, $82.5 million free-agent contract he signed in December 2009.

Lackey, who went 69-38 with a 3.49 ERA in his last five seasons with the Angels, had a 4.40 ERA in his first season in Boston before posting a 6.41 ERA in 2011 that was the majors' worst of any pitcher to throw at least 150 innings.

Now, the elbow is his biggest concern.

"It's not a situation of thinking about the elbow," Lackey said. "Everybody who has surgery has doubt, for sure, when you first start throwing. Got a big zipper in my arm for a reason."

Lackey showed signs of improvement through four starts during spring training. He yielded three runs in 8 2-3 innings over his last two games after being tagged for four runs in three innings in his first two.

"He was consistent," manager John Farrell told the team's official website. "And not just from the stuff he took to the mound every day, but the consistency of his command throughout spring training. You're going to see guys go through some arm strength fluctuations that can lead to inconsistent command or stuff, but I think that's a tribute to what he's done with his body in reshaping it."

Lackey has struggled greatly against the Blue Jays (1-3) in eight starts as a member of the Red Sox, going 2-4 with a 9.14 ERA.

Boston, though, has won five of its last seven games in Toronto after opening this three-game set with a 6-4 victory Friday in Farrell's return after being hired away by the Sox.

Mike Napoli, another new addition, is looking to build on his performance in the opener of this series. He hit a two-run homer and drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning while playing first base for the fourth game in a row.

The Blue Jays are off to a sluggish start after retooling their roster via a 12-player trade with Miami during the offseason, a deal that included the acquisitions of Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio.

Reyes had his best game with Toronto on Friday, going 4 for 5 with two doubles, a homer and two RBIs. However, Bonifacio struck out four times and had a career-high three errors, becoming the first Blue Jay to accomplish the dubious feat since Juan Guzman on May 23, 1997.

"We haven't put it all together yet," manager John Gibbons said. "Too many mistakes (Friday), very rarely are you going to win those kind of games."

Gibbons is scheduled to give J.A. Happ his first start after the left-hander won a spot in the rotation because of his 1.90 ERA in seven games - six starts - during spring training. That led to a two-year, $8.9 million extension after Happ went 3-2 with a 4.69 ERA in 10 games after being acquired from Houston in July.

Happ was 0-1 with a 7.30 ERA in two starts against Boston while pitching in the NL.