BOSTON – He was hit, and then hit hard in the first inning. Yet John Lackey remained, lasting 5 2/3 innings Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
It is what you might call vintage Lackey these days. He walked off the mound after the top of the first inning, down 3-0, having thrown 31 pitches, allowing four hits.
Then the man with the bulldog reputation bore down.
Lackey threw 113 pitches. He gave up four runs, three earned, on 11 hits, in Boston’s win, as the Red Sox moved to 64-38, three games ahead of the Yankees.
While Lackey (9-8, 6.20 ERA) is a battler, he has lost enough encounters to question him and his five-year, $82.5 million salary. Five of his outings have resulted in six or more earned runs.
Lackey’s season has been consistently up and down. His first four games went Loss-Win-Loss-Win. His next 12 decisions have been three losses, three wins, three losses and three wins. Now you can make that four wins. And three earned runs or less in four straight games — the first time he has done that with the Red Sox.
“The way Lack’s starting to pitch is really uplifting,” Boston Manager Terry Francona said. “His ERA at the end of the year might be higher than he wants it, or we want it.
“That does not mean he can’t be a huge help and asset to us the last two months of the year.”
With Clay Buchholz on the disabled list with a bad back, Andrew Miller missing the strike zone, and Tim Wakefield as unreliable as his knuckleball, Lackey is needed.
Lackey may not be the “co-ace” the Red Sox thought they were getting when he signed, but he still has value.
BUCHHOLZ THREW off the mound Monday and everything seemed fine.
“He looked like he was in midseason form,” Francona said. “We thought that was very encouraging. At the same time, we have an obligation to do the right thing.”
Francona said that, in terms of Buchholz throwing more side sessions and preparing for a rehab start, the Red Sox are not ready to “turn him loose.
“We want Buck to see one more specialist. … We just want to make sure this kid’s OK.”
MILLER IS LIKELY the odd man out of the rotation, once Buchholz returns, given Miller’s 5.45 ERA and 24 walks in 34 innings. But Miller can’t go to the minors and is too wild for the bullpen.
Should Buchholz return in mid-August, look for Miller to go on the disabled list (arm fatigue?) until the rosters can be expanded in September.
YAMAICO NAVARRO was originally scheduled to play third base Wednesday, but when Kevin Youkilis said he was OK to play third, Navarro moved to left field, bumping Darnell McDonald to right and Josh Reddick to the bench against left-hander Bruce Chen.
“I like the idea of seeing Navarro out there, especially against a lefty,” Francona said. “He’s a young kid. I don’t want him sitting.”
Navarro, still only 23, is an interesting piece for the Red Sox, if he can start hitting. His average though 13 games was .179, before Wednesday’s game. He singled in his first two at-bats Wednesday.
Navarro’s glove is good enough for shortstop or third base, and he is adding outfield to the resume. At the plate, he has shown promise in Portland last year, then in Pawtucket.
Navarro has three years of options left, which means he can bounce between Boston and Pawtucket through 2013.
“If he can handle (the majors), it makes us a better team maybe next year,” Francona said.
JED LOWRIE would be the logical addition to the roster, if he’s healthy.
Big If. Lowrie, 27, played in Portland in 2007 and then reached Boston in 2008, playing 81 games and starting in the American League Championship Series.
But Lowrie has played only 142 games since due to various ailments, the latest a bruised nerve in his left shoulder that has had him on the disabled list since June 17.
He took batting practice outside for the first since his injury, and then fielded grounders before Wednesday’s game.
“Steady progression,” said Lowrie, who added that a rehab assignment is in “the foreseeable future” but could not give a timetable.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: