After losing last night in extra innings–in no small part due to the rare poor Jon Lester start–the Sox look to split this mini-series with the Jays tonight. They will have to rely on John Lackey to do so, against a pitcher who, despite spending his five-year career in the same division, they have seen very little of in the past.
Lackey was not the most popular man in Boston after his start on May 5, when he lasted just four innings, threw 97 pitches (just 56 for strikes) and allowed eight runs and 10 hits. That dismal appearance pushed his Run Average in a Sox uniform over the five mark, a long way of saying he hasn’t earned his keep.
There is a worry that Lackey is hurt, that he has some underlying issue that has caused his command to vanish for much of his tenure with the club. Watch his velocity to see if it falls dramatically over the course of tonight’s start, and also see whether or not he can actually hit the spots that his catcher expects him to consistently.
The Jays will use Jesse Litsch in tonight’s start–he is a pitcher who knows a bit about being injured. Litsch had Tommy John surgery in April of 2009, costing him 155 games of that season. He still had to recover from the procedure in 2010, costing him another 59 games. After throwing all of 46 2/3 innings for the Jays, he needed surgery on his hip that knocked him out for the rest of the season. It’s no wonder Baseball Prospectus’s injury projection system, CHIPPER, felt Litsch was a high-risk to miss 30-plus days in 2011.
With a strengthened elbow and what the Jays hope is the end of the hip labrum woes that have bothered Litsch for years, he has looked solid to start the year. He has struck out 7.8 batters per nine, helping him to a K/BB of 2.2, and has an RA of 4.54 in his 35 2/3 innings. That isn’t anything earth-shattering, but an average performance beats not being able to pitch at all, a lot that Litsch has had for two years now.
The Jays will be hoping Litsch can beat out his average innings per start tonight–a figure just below six–as starter Kyle Drabek lasted just five frames last night, leaving the other five for the bullpen. Sox fans, on the other hand, will be hoping Lackey can get to the fifth.