Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 3/10/13
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John Lackey ran into some third-inning trouble and wasn’t exactly overpowering, but the right-hander once again took another step forward in his fourth start of the spring on Sunday. Lackey allowed two runs on four hits, walked one and struck out two while throwing 66 pitches in 3 2/3 innings. With the outing, the 34-year-old has now twirled 9 2/3 innings this spring, and he’s allowed six runs on seven hits while walking three and striking out four. Those numbers aren’t exactly ace-like, but it’s hard to complain when the pitcher in question has endured his fair share of struggles in recent years and is coming off a missed season because of Tommy John surgery. It’s even harder to complain when you factor in the gradual progress that Lackey has seemed to make in each of his starts. Lackey’s first start was all about clearing the mental hurdle of returning the mound. He admitted after that two-inning outing that he was simply trying to get the ball over the plate, and the idea of mixing up his pitches was far from his mind. Four starts later, the more intricate details are beginning to seep into Lackey’s approach, and the result has been a rather impressive arsenal, all things considered. Lackey worked both sides of the plate well on Sunday, and his offspeed stuff was as good as it’s been all spring. He did get touched up a bit in the second inning as a result of giving up three straight singles and a walk, but even in the process, he didn’t look all that bad. One hit was a groundball up the middle that just trickled past the infield, and another was a groundball into the hole between shortstop and third base that Pedro Ciriaco made a play on but couldn’t turn into an out. Will Lackey need to improve on the overall results going forward? Absolutely. But at this point, with three weeks to go before Opening Day, he looks comfortable, which is really more than can be said for most — if not all — of the righty’s Red Sox tenure. A step here, and step there: that’s really the best way to summarize Lackey’s spring thus far. And you know what? That’s all right for now, as it could set him up for better things when the contests start counting for real. Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

This article first appeared on NESN.com and was syndicated with permission.

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