Having passed that test, he's now ready to cut loose.
"I went to the edge," he said, referring to his physical limits. "Going forward, that's a big step to take."
This is the fourth series between these American League West rivals. They've split the first 10 games, with the Mariners holding a 2-1 advantage in Angel Stadium.
Lackey picked up a win at Seattle in his second start, going five innings and yielding five runs (four earned). He used that as a springboard to his strong effort at Dodger Stadium, which produced no decision when the Dodgers rallied late to win in extra innings.
The Angels are trying to get their offense humming with all the parts finally together.
Vladimir Guerrero is back, finding his form in the heart of the lineup along with Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales and Juan Rivera. Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu have been taking care of business at the top of the order, getting on base with regularity and stealing in tandem with remarkable proficiency.
Mariners southpaw Jason Vargas has been sensational in his first three starts, allowing three solo homers and nothing more.
Vargas, acquired from the Mets over the winter, started against the Rangers on May 12 in Arlington -- his first big league start since 2007 -- and held powerhouse Texas to one run over five innings.
A graduate of Apple Valley High School, northeast of Anaheim, Vargas is a product of Long Beach State, which gave Jered Weaver to the Angels.
Vargas held the Red Sox to one run over seven innings in his next start, and he made it 3-for-3 in quality starts against the Giants, holding them to an Aaron Rowand home run.
"One thing you look for in a younger pitcher is his demeanor and mound presence," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "Very rarely since he has been up here have I felt he was tentative on the mound. I think his ability to go out and attack opposing hitters has been the most impressive thing."
Vargas says the main thing is good health.
"I don't know if there's anything I can attribute [this success] to, except maybe being healthy," Vargas said. "I'm just trying to keep the workload consistent and keep everything the same, regardless what happens."
Vargas, 26, did not pitch at all during the 2008 regular season while recovering from hip surgery.
Mike Napoli (.435), Rivera (.429) and Hunter (.366) have been punishing left-handers this season. Hunter has 15 RBIs in 41 at-bats against southpaws, while Rivera has launched four homers in 35 at-bats.
LAA: RHP John Lackey (1-0, 6.00 ERA)
In his third outing of the season, Lackey left with a lead the bullpen didn't hold. He yielded three earned runs on seven hits and one intentional walk while striking out five. Lackey's curveball and fastball got away from him on occasion, accounting for three hit batsmen, but only one cost him a run. He's 11-8 in 23 career starts against the Mariners and is coming off a win against them in Seattle on May 18, when he yielded five runs (four earned) in five innings.
SEA: LHP Jason Vargas (1-0, 1.29 ERA)
The left-hander looks more and more like a keeper in the Mariners' starting rotation. He was locked in a dandy pitchers' duel with future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson in his last outing, holding the Giants to a first-inning solo home run and a single over seven superb innings. Thought not particularly overpowering, Vargas struck out seven batters and rarely fell behind hitters.
Kelvim Escobar showed he's ready to rejoin the Angels' rotation with a dominant performance on Wednesday for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga against Lancaster. Escobar allowed one hit and no walks in six scoreless innings, striking out eight hitters. He retired the last 12 men and threw 76 pitches. Escobar, who underwent right shoulder surgery last July 29, is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on June 4. ... Angels starters have allowed four or fewer earned runs in 40 of 46 games and own a 3.98 ERA. ... Weaver is 5-0 with 48 strikeouts in his past five home starts. ... Abreu is a .381 career hitter against the White Sox. ... Figgins is batting .390 during his 15-game streak. ... Rivera is the Angels' leading hitter with runners in scoring position at .349. He's hitting .353 with three homers and nine RBIs in his past 14 games.
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Saturday: Angels (Matt Palmer, 5-0, 4.82) vs. Mariners (Felix Hernandez, 5-3, 3.76), 6:05 p.m. PT
Sunday: Angels (Ervin Santana, 0-2, 7.82) vs. Mariners (Chris Jakubauskas, 3-5, 6.45), 12:35 p.m. PT