It's been a tough year for Lackey, and constant criticism won't make him pitch better. Unfortunately, as things stand, the team is throwing away wins.
Lackey's wife is battling breast cancer, a fight which obviously takes precedence over anything that's happening on the field. And if his head and heart are with her rather than focused on pitching well, then that's completely understandable.
He should be given time to be with her. But the club can't afford to continue trotting him out there to the tune of five or six runs allowed.
In his NESN interview, Epstein addressed Lackey's struggles in addition to covering trade possibilities. And he was maddeningly non-committal.
“As an organization we’ve got to find some answers. A lot of times this year, he just hasn’t been good enough and has taken us out of games. We know he’s working hard and we know he wants to get better. Right now, there aren’t answers.
"Otherwise he would have applied some things and taken some steps forward. There are questions, not answers. It’s our job to find the answers. We’ve got to keep working at it and get better. It’s definitely got to get better.
"He has a chance to be an important part of this team, wants to be, and has the talent to. It’s just not happening right now.”
“I think that work that has to happen for him to improve can take different forms. It’s something that can happen while he’s pitching. If he’s able to go out there and keep us in games, then yeah, he should get the ball. If he’s not, then we’ve got to look deeper. But he’s in the rotation. He’s got a chance to go out there and make it better.”
What this says is that the team is content to twiddle its thumbs and watch the status quo continue to unfold. Epstein's assurance that the team will "look deeper" if Lackey continues to struggle is, for now, cold comfort.
It doesn't matter how much he's paid or how big a name he is. If Lackey can't produce, he shouldn't be pitching. It's hurting the team. And the hurt goes beyond one loss here and there.
His appearances put tremendous pressure on the lineup, and we've already seen the tension boil over in the form of Lackey shouting at Carl Crawford.
Since the end of April, Lackey has had only one quality start in eight appearances. If anything, his struggles are getting worse, not better. There was optimism among his teammates and coaches that he was turning a corner when he put together some performances that the team characterized as effective.
These performances included 5.2 innings, three earned runs on June 5; six innings, four earned runs on June 11; and eight innings, four earned runs on June 17. Combined? A 5.03 ERA.
That's not effective. Not for $15.25 million.
Surely, Doubront or another arm could sustain an ERA below five. It's well past time to make a move and sit Lackey down, big contract or not.