Lackey eyes return to Halos next week
Ace says he needs one more Minors start before '09 debut
ANAHEIM -- John Lackey feels strongly that he's 75 to 80 quality pitches away -- that would be one more Minor League rehab start -- from reclaiming his role as ace of the Angels' pitching staff.
"I'm not sure I need two more [starts]," Lackey said in an exclusive interview with MLB.com on Wednesday night, rejoining the Angels after delivering 4 2/3 strong innings for Triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday night. "I felt pretty good. I was locating the ball pretty good with everything I throw.
"I threw what I'm going to throw here, and I came out feeling good, no problems [with the strained right forearm]. I don't know if the stamina's quite there, but the way I pitched would have played here.
"If the next one goes OK, and I go up to 75 or 80 [pitches], I think I'll be ready to go."
By Lackey's reasoning, if he's going to throw 90 pitches in a third outing, it might as well be against the Rangers rather than another band of Minor League hitters.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia took a more guarded, noncommittal approach to the issue of Lackey rejoining the rotation after one more start.
Basically, the same situation applies to Ervin Santana, who also had an impressive outing on Monday pitching for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga in his recovery from a sprained ligament in his right elbow.
"John feels great and Ervin Santana feels great," Scioscia said. "The impressive thing about John is that he maintained his stuff through 60 pitches. His 61st pitch was as crisp as his first pitch.
"We'll get him to 75, 80 in his next start and see where he is."
That would be on Sunday, which would have Lackey set up to open the series against the Rangers in his native Texas on May 15. Facing Tacoma, the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate, Lackey gave up one hit and one walk while striking out three hitters.
Scioscia posed a question of his own without providing an answer.
"Does he need two more, three more, one more?" the manager said. "There are a lot of things we're going to be looking at."
Unlike Santana, who didn't get fully stretched out in Spring Training, Lackey was up to 90 pitches when he strained the forearm near the right elbow while facing the Rangers on March 29 in Surprise, Ariz.
If he gets back on May 15, it will be the second year in a row that Lackey has sat out the season's first six weeks after going six years without missing a start because of physical issues.
This being the final year of his Angels contract, with free agency and all of its intrigue a very real winter possibility, Lackey understands the value of every start -- and what it will mean, to his team and his future, to come out of the chute strong and stay that way.
When he's on the top of his game -- as in 2007 when he was third in the American League Cy Young Award balloting with a 19-9 record and league-best 3.01 ERA -- Lackey is in elite company.
In 24 starts last season, he was 12-5 with a 3.75 ERA that was blown out of proportion by a final outing -- against the Rangers. Hammered for 10 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, his ERA climbed a half-run from 3.25.
The big man from Abilene clearly wouldn't mind making his season debut on his native turf.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.