Everyone is pitching in for the Red Sox
Even with a resurgent John Lackey starting Wednesday night in hopes of leading the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series-clinching victory at Fenway Park in 95 years, their bullpen could be crowded.
“They know the urgency,” pitching coach Juan Nieves said. “They know what’s at stake. It’s wonderful that guys are stepping up.”
Lackey, with plenty of support from his teammates, could fully celebrate his comeback from reconstructive right elbow surgery with a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series.
The contributions of Lackey, who pitched 6 1/3 innings of five-hit ball in Game 2 and a scoreless eighth inning in Game 4 at Busch Stadium, mirror the unselfishness of a Red Sox team that has distanced itself from the tension of last season’s last-place finish in the American League East.
“That’s the way it is in the playoffs,” said Nieves, who has blended well in his first season as Red Sox pitching coach after five seasons as the Chicago White Sox bullpen coach. “We have three months off [after the Series].”
Facing a 2-1 deficit in the Series with endurance-challenged Clay Buchholz starting Game 4, Lackey told Manager John Farrell and Nieves he was available, three nights after throwing 95 pitches.
“Jon Lester also said he was available,” said Nieves, referring to the Red Sox left-hander who dominated in winning Games 1 and 5. “The guys know this is it.”
Buchholz was coping with right shoulder tightness and a decline in velocity, but the Red Sox were willing to start him because of the willingness of starters to relieve, such as Lackey and left-hander Felix Doubront.
Doubront, who started 29 games in each of the last two seasons, has played a huge role as a left-handed reliever in the postseason because of the struggles of veteran Matt Thornton (who wasn’t on the postseason roster) and Craig Breslow.
Doubront, 26, pitched 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball in Games 3 and 4. His durability and dependability gave Farrell more freedom to pinch-hit for Jake Peavy and Buchholz after only four innings.
Perhaps the biggest benefit for the Red Sox is that a seven-game series with two days off has enabled them to stretch their pitching resources.
“Even though Lackey is a guy who is coming off Tommy John surgery, we kept him around 180 innings [189 2/3],” Nieves said. “He is used to throwing 230 to 250 innings. The way he is fit and trains, it gives us the flexibility to use him.
“But in a seven-game series, you always have flexibility to use your starters [in relief], especially a guy like Doubront who has been the fourth or fifth starter, and Lackey in non-stressful situations.”
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