Lackey virtually ready for season after gem

Seven-inning, 84-pitch start against Mets leaves right-hander confident

Lackey virtually ready for season after gem

JUPITER, Fla. -- After using his first two spring starts to focus on specific pitches, John Lackey met with catcher Yadier Molina on Friday morning, asking him to call the game as he would in the regular season.

What followed was a seven-inning performance from Lackey that the Cardinals would certainly take in such a setting.

Lackey became the first St. Louis starter this spring to pitch that deep, doing so because of how efficient he was. Entering the day with a target pitch count of 80, Lackey navigated through seven relatively uneventful innings on 84 in St. Louis' 5-4 win over the Mets. He averaged fewer than 10 pitches per inning through his first five frames.

"Throwing seven innings, that was probably a little bit further than I thought I'd go today with the pitch count," said Lackey, who allowed one run on six hits. "But they were pretty aggressive, and I was throwing a lot of strikes. It worked out pretty good."

Is Lackey as regular season-ready as the results suggested?

Lackey's seven strong innings

"I think so," said bench coach David Bell, who managed the game while skipper Mike Matheny traveled with another squad to Viera, Fla., for a 1-1 tie with the Nationals. "That's what it looked like. It looked like he was making all his pitches. The velocity was there. He probably had a little more in the tank, which is a good thing."

Lackey's biggest pickle came in his final inning, which the Mets opened with a single and double. The runner at third, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, scored on a subsequent groundout, but Lackey preserved a one-run lead by retiring the next two batters to end his day.

"I was happy that I had a little extra gear once I got second and third and was able to minimize that inning," Lackey said. "That was a good sign. I made some good pitches and only gave up one run. That was nice to still have a little in the tank."

Lackey will make one more Grapefruit League start next week to prepare for his regular-season debut. With where he finished on Friday, he'll likely be pushed to (or even a little beyond) 90 pitches, plenty high to then eclipse the 100-pitch mark when games begin to count.

The Cardinals have not announced where Lackey will fall in the rotation, though given his current schedule, it's likely he will pitch in the team's season-opening series against the Cubs.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.