Commentary

Lackey puts uncertainty in Sox rotation

Boston's right-hander struggles in another loss, expresses his frustrations

Updated: May 12, 2011, 2:34 PM ET
By Jeremy Sandler | Special to ESPNBoston.com

TORONTO -- Whatever frustrations Boston Red Sox fans are feeling with the performance of John Lackey these days, the pitcher is clearly more frustrated.

The right-hander painted the picture of hardcore despondency after giving up nine runs over 6 2/3 innings in a 9-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.

"Everything in my life sucks right now to be honest with you," said Lackey.

He did not elaborate and, given his apparent mood and the real-world issues his family has gone through involving cancer, he wasn't pushed on the topic.

But even just focusing on baseball, there is clearly something wrong with the pitcher Boston signed to a five-year, $82.5-million contract before last season. Wednesday night's result marked Lackey's third consecutive loss, and the 32-year-old now sports an ugly 8.01 ERA after seven starts.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireAnother rough outing pushed John Lackey's ERA to 8.01 after seven starts.

As gruesome as those numbers are, there are more, such as the five walks he gave up Wednesday compared to one strikeout.

"Everything went wrong that could go wrong, that's pretty much the story of the whole damn year," said Lackey. "I don't know what the hell happened tonight. I threw the ball way better than I did my last start. I don't know."

Given his struggles in Toronto, he did not help matters for his next appearance here with a very clear dig at Blue Jays fan favorite John McDonald.

The light-hitting utility man with a career .237 average and 20 home runs in 13 seasons drove in three of Toronto's runs on a double and a home run.

"Everybody's had success with him in the past to be honest with you," Lackey said of McDonald. "You can't give up a hit to him when they've got other guys in that lineup who can hurt you."

Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said if something is bothering the pitcher, he does not know about it.

"I've never seen him this focused and this determined; he wants it," said Saltalamacchia. "Every inning he's talking to me and said he was feeling good. Just the last few innings, just kind of hits happened.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona also seemed flummoxed by Lackey, who has given up two runs or fewer in three of his starts and at least six in each of his other four starts.

"Hopefully, next time out it will be that one or less, that's the one we're shooting for," said Francona. "I thought [Wednesday night] he showed his fastball and then went to the breaking ball, and that's OK, but he just left a few of them over the middle."

Boston's pair of losses in Toronto stopped in its tracks the success of a 15-8 run that followed a 2-10 start. The team now heads to the Bronx for a three-game series with the New York Yankees at 17-20 on the season and needing a sweep to reach .500.

It is true Boston's lineup might be rounding into form.

Adrian Gonzalez hit his sixth home run in nine games Wednesday and added a double to finish the night hitting .329. Carl Crawford went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 10 games and raise his average to .218.

But while Boston's lineup seems to be shaping up, Lackey's performance gives the pitching staff another question.

Remember those heady offseason days when Boston fans could look at the Yankees team that failed to sign Cliff Lee and feel just a little self-satisfied? That should be long gone now.

Lackey's struggles and the bumping of Daisuke Matsuzaka from his start in the Bronx make it clear the Red Sox pitching is at this point not what the team hoped it would be. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are rolling and Clay Buchholz seems to be coming around as the No. 3.

Beyond that, though, the Red Sox are either going to need better performances from Lackey or a new plan if they are serious about turning this season around.

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