ST. LOUIS -- After having his last two starts shortened by circumstances out of his control, John Lackey gladly carried the Cardinals as deep as he could in Friday's series opener against the Dodgers.
Lackey threw the first seven innings of the Cardinals' fifth shutout, this one a 3-0 win to open a three-game series against the Dodgers. The outing lowered his season ERA to 2.83 and gives him a 1.83 ERA in 10 home starts since joining the Cardinals last season. Lackey allowed one or fewer runs in four of his six May starts, but this time he was also satisfied to leave knowing that his work was done.
"It was nice to get to [an end] point," Lackey acknowledged.
On May 18, Lackey was rolling right along opposite Matt Harvey when, at 76 pitches, he was plucked for a pinch-hitter. It was a move that irritated Lackey, who said after the start that he hadn't felt better on the mound in years. Then last weekend, Lackey threw only five innings before rain prematurely ended a game against Kansas City.
When he has been able to stay on the mound, though, Lackey has been the workhorse the Cardinals sorely needed, especially after losing Adam Wainwright for the season. He's finished seven innings in half of his starts this year.
"When he came in here, regardless what had happened with Adam, we needed somebody else to shoulder the load and provide some of that experience," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's been every bit of that and has mixed in some really good stuff as well. We knew we were going to need him to come in and be one of our horses that we go to and just ride."
Lackey ran into little trouble against the Dodgers, against whom the veteran starter has a career 1.75 ERA in 11 starts. He didn't have to deal with multiple baserunners until the seventh, which opened with consecutive singles. A pair of strikeouts and foul popout ended that threat and Lackey's night at 96 pitches.
He finished the game with nine strikeouts, one short of his season high.
"I feel like I'm kind of building on some starts and getting stronger," Lackey said. "I have felt pretty good. I feel like strength-wise and [the ability to] bounce back, it's been a nice run. But I have a long way to go."
Thus far, though, the Cardinals see a pitcher even better than the one they acquired in a 2014 Trade Deadline deal.
"As far as what we saw last year and how he's throwing right now, it's just much better stuff," Matheny said. "He's got the velocity. He's got location with his fastball. He's got a slider, you can see he's getting a lot of swing and misses from. He's got the deception. Everything is coming out of the same release point and slot. All that put together and just being able to locate when he gets into trouble, it has been a great combination to have."