FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Before he walked out to the mound, John Lackey paused for a moment and thought about all the rehabilitation he went through in order to take this next step.
“I kind of took a second,” the Red Sox pitcher said, “and reflected on the past year and a half. It’s been a lot of work and (I’ve) got to thank a lot of trainers, a lot of people that helped me get back to this point. I was excited to be back out there.”
Lackey returned to the mound Saturday after missing last season following elbow surgery. He got off to a difficult start but worked out of a bases-loaded jam, allowing one run in one inning as a split squad of Tampa Bay Rays beat Boston 4-3.
“(I was) excited. It was fun. I missed playing baseball, for sure,” Lackey said. “It was good to be back out there. Arm felt fine. I didn’t feel any pain in the elbow. So, just keep moving forward.”
Lackey had Tommy John surgery after the 2011 season. Tampa Bay loaded the bases against the right-hander with no outs before he retired three straight batters.
Lackey gave up one hit, a walk and hit a batter with a pitch. He struck out one and threw 20 pitches, 10 for strikes.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was pleased with Lackey’s performance.
“From a physical standpoint he came out of today’s outing fine,” Farrell said. “I thought he looked free and easy on the mound. It’s just a matter of getting back into his delivery. With each added inning, that will certainly take place.
“I think there was a lot of anticipation on a number of people’s part and mostly John’s. But now he’s able to start to get into his five-day rotation, normal sides, normal turns through the schedule. But a good first step for him.”
Rays starter Alex Colome pitched a hitless inning.
Tampa Bay got a run off Lackey when Ben Zobrist led off the game with a walk, went to second on Desmond Jennings’ single and third when Matt Joyce was hit by a pitch. Zobrist scored on Ryan Roberts’ sacrifice fly to right.
Jennings led off the third with a double off Red Sox left-hander Drake Britton, then stole third and scored on a throwing error by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to put the Rays up 2-0.
Boston tied it on Jose Iglesias’ two-run homer off Marquis Fleming.
With two outs in the eighth, Leslie Anderson’s two-run homer off Oscar Villarreal put Tampa Bay ahead 4-2.
“We talk about LIPS — late-inning pressure situations,” said Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, acting as manager while Joe Maddon piloted the other split squad. “A great example today, with Leslie coming through in the late innings with a big home run for us. So, outstanding.”
The Red Sox scored once in the ninth when Jeremy Hazelbaker doubled and came around on Xander Bogaerts’ single up the middle. Matt Buschmann struck out Daniel Nava looking to earn the save.
“Our pitching was really, really good,” Martinez said. “We threw strikes for the most part. We got ahead of hitters. We battled. Our baserunning was really, really good. We played really well. Defense was good. Everything was good.”
NOTES: Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz, who injured his right hamstring on Feb. 12, the first day of official workouts for pitchers and catchers, threw a two-inning simulated game Saturday morning. He threw 37 pitches. Depending on how he responds, he could be inserted into the rotation as early as Thursday against the Pirates in Bradenton. … Bogaerts, a top shortstop prospect, left after the game to travel to Taiwan where he will join Team Netherlands for the World Baseball Classic. … The Rays have 66 players in camp, their largest squad since 2003 when they had 73, in part because of the World Baseball Classic and the split-squad Grapefruit League openers. … There was a tribute and moment of silence before the game to honor Red Sox great Johnny Pesky, who died in August at age 93. … The Rays lost to the Pirates 3-2 in their other split-squad game. … The teams combined to use 14 pitchers.