For a guy who signed a five-year, $82.5-million contract last winter, John Lackey sure talks about small change a lot.
"Honestly, I made a lot of good pitches," said Lackey, who allowed five earned runs in six innings in the Yankees' 5-2 victory over the Red Sox yesterday. "They kind of nickel-and-dimed me to death on that one. I made some pitches and had several balls just out of reach."
Lackey coined his expression in response to the fifth inning, when he allowed four consecutive two-out singles by Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada as the Yankees scored twice to break a 2-2 tie. Overall, he gave up eight hits, walked three and struck out seven.
But excuses in the midst of a pedestrian 2010 can't be what the Red Sox thought they were getting when they added Lackey (10-7) to an already imposing starting rotation. He was supposed to be the bulldog starter with the killer curve, but this year has been more about a learning curve.
"There's definitely a difference in divisions for sure," he said when asked about his struggles in 2010. "But I can't attribute it to any one thing, really."
Here's a few reasons: Lackey has posted the highest WHIP (1.54), hits-per-nine-innings (10.31) and walks-per-nine-innings (3.56) of his career. He's also striking out only 5.83 batters per nine innings, the lowest rate since his rookie year in 2002.
Lackey has walked 58 in 1462/3 innings, and he hasn't posted a season total that high since 2006. His ERA of 4.60 is his worst since a 4.67 in 2004.
Lackey has one win in his last seven starts and has lost four times in his last five decisions.
He pitched well against the Yankees April 7 in his first 2010 start, allowing three hits in six shutout innings, but he did not get a decision. Since then, he's had only one start in which he didn't give up an earned run and has allowed at least four earned runs in eight games.
The one thing Lackey has been this year is durable. After injuries limited him to fewer than 28 starts in 2008 and 2009, he already has started 23 games. Oddly, he hasn't missed a game because of an injury in a season in which teammate after teammate has hit the disabled list. He's also gone at least six innings in 19 starts.
Regardless of the statistics, Lackey thought he did his job.
"I definitely think I threw the ball better than the numbers are going to show today, for sure," he said. "Got some strikeouts when I needed them. It's just one of those things."