John Lackey's record may indicate that he's been a .500 pitcher this season, but over the last few weeks, he has been nothing short of a much-needed ace for the Red Sox.
Lackey will look to continue his stellar pitching of late when he takes the mound on Tuesday as the Red Sox welcome the Padres to Boston for a three-game Interleague set.
With Clay Buchholz on the disabled list and Jon Lester struggling, Lackey has re-emerged as a top-end starter. He has turned in three consecutive seven-inning outings in which he has allowed just two runs in each, lowering his season ERA to 2.99.
In his most recent start last Wednesday against the Rockies, Lackey matched a career-best with 12 strikeouts. He had reached that mark only one time prior, doing so as a member of the Angels on Sept. 21, 2008.
"That's the Lackey of old," Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino said. "I remember playing against him and facing that guy, and he was dominant. That's what he showed [in his last start]. Twelve strikeouts and going out there and doing what he is doing, going deep into the ballgames. His velocity is back, too. I think that's what makes it important."
While the Red Sox veteran looks to keep dealing, the Padres have cooled off lately. They enter Tuesday's game having lost three games in a row to the Marlins and seven of their last nine.
The Padres will lean on rookie Robbie Erlin to help them rebound. After being called up to make his first start on June 1 following a pair of relief appearances earlier in the season, Erlin went back to the Minors before returning last Wednesday for another spot start. Ranked the club's No. 8 overall prospect, Erlin turned in his second quality start in as many tries, limiting the Phillies to three runs (two earned) on four hits over 6 1/3 innings.
The 22-year-old southpaw gave up a pair of runs over the first two innings before settling in and showing flashes of his potential the rest of the way. At one point, Erlin retired 10 consecutive batters, including five via strikeout.
"He got some balls up early in the game, but settled down," Padres manager Bud Black said. "It was a matter of dialing in his fastball. That's a good, experienced lineup over there. He did a great job. I'm very proud of Robbie. He pitched with the fastball, both sides of the plate."
Padres: Cabrera nearing return
Speedy shortstop Everth Cabrera is on the verge of rejoining the Padres and could do so as soon as later this week in Boston.
Cabrera will begin a rehab assignment with Class A Fort Wayne on Tuesday, and is expected to play games on Tuesday and Wednesday. If all goes well, he could be activated as early as Thursday.
However, Black said it's unlikely that Cabrera would start that day's game against the Red Sox because of traveling and an early first pitch, which is set for 10:35 a.m. PT.
"We could activate him if we wanted," Black said. "We'll see. That's granted if he comes out of Tuesday and Wednesday fine."
Red Sox: Farrell not concerned with lack of homers
In somewhat unusual fashion, the Red Sox have scored more runs than any team in the Majors, despite finding themselves in the middle of the American League pack when it comes to home runs. Part of that is offset by the fact that Boston also leads the big leagues in doubles.
Aside from David Ortiz's 16 round trippers, the only other Red Sox player with double-digit homers is Daniel Nava with 10. Manager John Farrell admitted that it would be ideal to have more home run potential in the lineup, though he is confident his club will continue to score runs at a high rate.
"Let's face it -- the more 20-plus home run guys you have, probably the better. But I also look at the number of doubles we hit," Farrell said. "This is a team that, up and down the lineup, doubles are capable. If you generate runs by virtue of home runs or by combining a very deep lineup, still, the total runs scored are the most important.
"Across the board, our home run totals, to me, are made up by the extra-base capability in other ways."
• Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin is 8-for-13 [.615] with four home runs and seven RBIs in his career against Lackey.
• The Padres are one of five teams Lackey has never recorded a win against. He took the loss while allowing five runs off four hits and four walks over 3 1/3 innings in his only career start against San Diego on June 22, 2011.
• This marks just the fifth series between Boston and San Diego, with the Red Sox leading the all-time series, 7-5.