Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lackey to Return to Rotation Wednesday

By Adam Dodge - Senior Writer

When it was learned during Spring Training that John Lackey would miss the first six weeks of the 2008 season, many felt that if the Angels could just plat .500 baseball while he was out it would be a great accomplishment. Factor in the loss of Kelvim Escobar for what could be the entire season and a win one – lose one pace in the early going would be gladly accepted by the team and its fans.

Lackey has fully recovered from a stiff forearm and strained triceps, has completed his rehabilitation assignment with the Angels’ A affiliate, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He takes the mound for the Angels tonight for the first time since 2007 – his best Major League season, which saw him win 19 games for the AL West champs and post the American League’s best ERA at 3.01.

When he does take the mound it will be for a first place team. The Lackey-less Angels exceeded expectations through their 41 games, posting a 24-17 record. In fact, the “ace” they’ve been missing will be hard pressed to match the performance of fellow staff members Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana. Saunders is 6-1 and Santana, 6-0. Both pitchers have ERAs under 3.00. Consider that Jon Garland has given up just one earned run in his last two starts, Jered Weaver tossed seven scoreless innings last night and it appears the Angel rotation is rounding into form.

And it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

The fifth spot in the rotation has been anything but good thus far. Dustin Moseley and Nick Adenhart combined to go just 2-3 with a handful of no-decisions and an ERA over 8.00. Neither had been able to go deep into games.

Lackey’s return balances the rotation and gives the Angels five guys capable of throwing a lot of zeros on the scoreboard. It should also allow Mike Scioscia to align the bullpen, which has been overused at times, and without defined roles at others. Good news for the Halos, bad news for their opponents. Instead of relying on Chris Bootcheck and Dustin Moseley to pitch the Angels through important moments, they can be used in long relief stretches, which should occur less and less often.

With Lackey, the Angels also get back a team leader and a source of energy that seems to motivate his teammates to compete at their best. While it would be foolish to expect Big John to pick up where he left off in 2007 immediately, his presence on the Angel roster can only have a positive effect on a team looking to pull away from their division foes.

As Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick are close to returning to the Angel line-up, it’s scary to think how good the Angel team will be when they hit their stride.

Behind John Lackey, the Angels look to take step one tonight.
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