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Lackey regains all the right stuff of old

Lackey regains all the right stuff of old

ANAHEIM -- John Lackey is back -- all the way back.

That is the considered judgment of the man who studies Lackey more intently than anyone -- pitching coach Mike Butcher -- as the Angels return to Angel Stadium to open a 10-game homestand with Lackey taking on Jeremy Guthrie and the Orioles.

The Angels swept a brief, two-game series in Baltimore April 28-29. The teams will meet again in Camden Yards for four games from Aug. 14-17.

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"There's absolutely no question he's healthy," Butcher said of Lackey. "He's doing everything he's done in the past. He's getting all of his work in -- he's still a horse in the gym. He's able to get to a nice [arm] slot to command both sides of the plate with his fastball, and his breaking ball's getting there."

Lackey, who has fronted the Angles' rotation over the past five seasons, missed the first six weeks recovering from a right forearm strain. This will be his 10th start -- if you count two errant deliveries to Rangers leadoff man Ian Kinsler on May 16 -- and he has been steadily building arm strength and stamina.

Since absorbing a beating by the Rays on June 10 in Florida, Lackey has been on the money his past three starts.

Facing the D-backs, Dodgers and Giants, he has had length -- seven, eight and seven innings -- and strength, with 24 strikeouts in 22 innings against only seven walks.

He didn't get a decision in his most recent outing at Arizona despite giving up only one run, unearned, across seven innings, striking out nine. He'd had 10 strikeouts two starts earlier in a win at San Francisco.

"We all get tested at some point," Butcher said. "He's not a guy who gets too down on himself. Obviously, he expects a lot of himself. That was a time for him to step back [after the Rays got nine runs, eight earned, in five innings], say, `What am I doing out here?'

"Basically, it was a matter of relaxing, taking it one pitch at a time. Getting his focus. I think he's done that."

Lackey has commented recently about the importance of "just going out and having fun, not worrying about things that are out of my control."

Impending free agency can be a bear to wrestle with, putting athletes in unfamiliar emotional territory. Lackey is negotiating that turf along with a number of teammates, including Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Robb Quinlan, Kelvim Escobar and Darren Oliver.

"The best thing John can do is perform the way he's performing," Butcher said. "John's a professional; he loves to compete.

"I think he was putting a lot of pressure on himself, not just on every outing, but every pitch. He's back to, `I'm going to let the ball work for me.' There's a comfort level, feeling good about his delivery and arm.

"His stuff is back to where it needs to be. He believes in his stuff."

Why wouldn't he? It's taken him to some amazing places, such as Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, a winning adventure against the Giants.

Needless to say, Lackey would love to play it again.

Pitching matchup
LAA: RHP John Lackey (2-3, 5.06 ERA)
Lackey was dominant across seven innings against the D-backs on Saturday, yielding an unearned run on five hits and three walks, striking out nine. Holding his stuff to the finish, he recorded punch-outs on six of his final seven outs. Lackey is 6-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 10 career meetings against the Orioles.

BAL: RHP Jeremy Guthrie (6-7, 5.11 ERA)
The first inning once again gave Guthrie trouble in his last start. Despite picking up his sixth win of the season, Guthrie allowed three earned runs, two in the first, and walked three batters in the Orioles' 6-3 win. After the first, Guthrie calmed down, however, lasting five innings and registering two strikeouts.

Tidbits
Ervin Santana is the likely starter for the second game of the series, with Sean O'Sullivan in limbo. The big right-hander, who has excelled in three starts, could be moved to middle relief or sent back to Triple-A Salt Lake to retain his starting stamina. ... The Angels hit 33 homers in June after producing a total of 40 in the season's first two months. That was their highest June total since 2003 when they launched 42. ... Gary Matthews Jr.'s next hit will be No. 1,000 in his career. ... The Angels' Double-A Arkansas affiliate had nine players selected to the Texas League All-Star Game, including three North starters: catcher Hank Conger, center fielder Peter Bourjos and first baseman Mark Trumbo. Right-handers Trevor Bell and Bobby Mosebach and lefty Trevor Reckling, recently promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake, were chosen along with second baseman Nate Sutton and right-handers Tommy Mendoza and Bobby Cassevah. ... Brandon Wood, who made his fifth appearance at first base on Tuesday, is hitting .302 at Salt Lake with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 61 games. Howard Kendrick is batting .308 in 17 games with two homers and 10 RBIs. He has a .392 on-base percentage.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FS-W

On radio
• KLAA 830, KFWB, KWKW 1330 (Español)

Up next
• Friday: Angels (Matt Palmer, 7-1, 5.16) vs. Orioles (David Hernandez, 1-2, 4.19), 7:05 p.m. PT
• Saturday: Angels (Sean O'Sullivan, 2-0, 3.00) vs. Orioles (Jason Berken, 1-5, 6.44), 6:05 p.m. PT
• Sunday: Angels (Joe Saunders, 8-5, 4.24) vs. Orioles (Rich Hill, 3-2, 7.08), 12:35 p.m. PT

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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