Following a season lost to injury, right-hander John Lackey will return to the mound Saturday afternoon, when the Red Sox host the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Lackey underwent Tommy John surgery after a 2011 season in which he went 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA -- nearly two runs greater than his previous high. The 34-year-old has struggled since signing a five-year, $82 million contract with Boston before the '10 season, but still has two more years to turn things around.
"You could probably talk to any number of pitchers who have gone through Tommy John surgery and the countless hours of rehab," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "I would hope, and I'm sure he will, take a moment to reflect back on what the last 16 months have been. We all feel John has the ability to impact our team in a positive way as much as anyone in our clubhouse."
Lackey arrived at Spring Training in shape and posted a 5.40 ERA across 11 2/3 Grapefruit League innings, passing every test he needed.
"He was consistent," said Farrell. "And not just from the stuff he took to the mound every day, but the consistency of his command throughout Spring Training. You're going to see guys go through some arm strength fluctuations that can lead to inconsistent command or stuff, but I think that's a tribute to what he's done with his body in reshaping it. It's given him more consistent body control that's led to more consistent strike-throwing."
Lackey will try to secure a series win after Boston won the opener, 6-4, on Friday. He will oppose J.A. Happ, who also is making his season debut after an eventful final week of Spring Training.
The left-hander, who once seemed destined for Triple-A Buffalo, was named the Blue Jays' fifth starter when Toronto optioned a struggling Ricky Romero. Happ signed a two-year, $8.9 million extension that includes a club option for 2015 a day later.
"It certainly has been a great few days," Happ said last Thursday at a press conference to announce the deal. "There was a long time before that where it wasn't quite as easy, but this kind of makes it all worth it.
"The best thing about this for me is it just creates even more excitement than I already had to be here and be a part of this club. Just really looking forward to a lot of fun and hopefully some great things this year."
Toronto acquired Happ from Houston last July, and he went 3-2 with a 4.69 ERA the rest of the season, starting in six of his 10 appearances.
Blue Jays: Bautista's status uncertain
Outfielder Jose Bautista didn't play in Friday's series opener because of a twisted right ankle, and the slugger wasn't sure if he will be back in the lineup on Saturday. If he is, it will be as designated hitter, according to manager John Gibbons.
Bautista suffered the injury Thursday, when he tried to beat out a double play against the Indians. He was dealing with soreness, but no swelling, prior to Friday's game.
"It's early in the season, and I'd rather do that, take one or two games off, instead of trying to play on it and have to take a full week or 10 days off," Bautista said. "I think it's the right move. There's no pressing need for me to be playing right now, but if this was at the end of the season and the games were to put us in the playoffs, or we were in the playoffs, I would definitely be playing."
A wrist injury limited Bautista to 92 games in 2012. He homered twice in his first three contests this season.
Red Sox: A chance for Ciriaco
Pedro Ciriaco is one of two Red Sox position players, along with Mike Carp, not to make a start this season. That could change a day after Ciriaco replaced an injured Jose Iglesias at shortstop.
Iglesias took a Josh Johnson fastball off his right arm in the second inning Friday and sustained a contusion that forced him out soon after. Ciriaco replaced him at shorstop and went 2-for-4 with an RBI.
The 27-year-old started at six different positions, including shortstop, last season. He hit .293/.315/.390 with two home runs and 16 stolen bases in 76 games.
• Current Blue Jays have combined for a .340/.398/.519 line against Lackey in 171 plate appearances. Melky Cabrera is 12-for-33 (.364), Rajai Davis 10-for-26 (.385) and Adam Lind 14-for-26 (.538).
• Blue Jays second baseman Emilio Bonifacio is coming off a four-strikeout game, the third of his career but first since 2009. He also committed three errors.
Andrew Simon is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.