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Lighter Lackey looking for improvement

Red Sox right-hander John Lackey showed up for spring training minus about 10 pounds. He's hoping it's a symbol of his commitment to a leaner ERA this season, his second in Boston.

"There's definitely room for improvement," Lackey said.

Lackey's first season with the Red Sox was not awful. In 2010, the first year of a five-year, $82.5 million contract, he posted a record of 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA, leading the staff in innings pitched, with 215, and quality starts, with 21.

But he knows where he needs to improve. He allowed 72 walks, tying his career high of 2006. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.17, was his lowest since his rookie year of 2002.

With the Red Sox finishing third in the AL East, out of the playoffs for just the second time since 2002, it was a disappointing season.

"I definitely could have pitched better, for sure, yeah," Lackey said. "It was disappointing more for team goals than anything. I'm more concerned with team things, making the playoffs and winning rings."

His first-half ERA, 4.78, was higher than his second-half, 3.97, though, reflecting his improvement during the season.

"I thought he limited mistakes," manager Terry Francona said. "He made a lot fewer mistakes as the season progressed. He threw fewer strikes at the start of the season and that made things a little harder. For whatever reason, it wasn't as easy those first couple of months as everybody had hoped. That's the human element."

Lackey will be working with catcher Jason Varitek for the second season and is entering his first full season with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is expected to be the Boston's primary catcher. After being acquired from the Rangers last season, Saltalamacchia caught three of Lackey's starts. Lackey was 0-2 in those games.

"I, for sure, think (knowing the catchers) helps, just as far as the rhythm of the game," Lackey said. "You can always shake to what pitch you want to throw but when you're up on the mound and the guy's throwing down the number that you're looking for, the rhythm and the flow of the game just comes better and you seem to do better."

Lackey said he is comfortable with Saltalamacchia.

"I feel great," he said. "I had a couple of solid starts with him toward the end of the year last year. And he's a really great guy. You can talk over the lineup or whatever and he implements the game plan well. And 'Tek is obviously 'Tek. Whatever he throws down you pretty much throw."

Pitching in the American League East, arguably the toughest division in baseball, took some adjustments both mentally and physically, Lackey said.

"Mentally you got to be focused going through lineups and you got to know when there's certain situations to maybe pitch around a guy with a base open," he said. "Just there's a lot more game planning I would say because the lineups are deeper."

Lackey enters his second season with the Sox with a comfort level that did not exist last year.

"Everybody's welcoming him back as opposed to shaking his hand and saying, 'Nice to meet you,'" Francona said. "The fact that he's in such great shape will help, too, He looks terrific, but he looks excited. I know we're excited."

Lackey's wife Krista was diagnosed with breast cancer in November. The couple spent the offseason in California where Krista underwent chemotherapy. It was in California where Lackey increased his cardio workouts to about an hour a day, working on three different machines.

The 6-foot-6 Lackey lost about 10 pounds this offseason, reporting in at about "241 or 242" pounds. It was his own initiative, he said, not something the team suggested.

"I'm just trying to give myself the best chance possible to stay healthy and maintain a high-level performance throughout the year," he said. "Because I think we're all pretty excited about this season and wanting to be part of it, for sure."