TUCSON — John Lackey may warrant Cy Young Award consideration with another big year, but the Angels' ace is going to have a heck of a time winning a Silver Slugger with his current offensive approach.
With orders from Manager Mike Scioscia to keep the bat on his shoulder for his second straight Cactus League start, Lackey looked at three strikes in his only at-bat in Saturday's 9-5 exhibition victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The same thing happened Monday against the Colorado Rockies in Tucson. Three pitches, three called strikes.
"I need to swing it," Lackey joked. "I'm a free agent coming up."
Indeed, Lackey, who has a 91-63 record and 3.81 earned-run average in six-plus big league seasons, is in a walk year, but the Angels hope to stop the 30-year-old right-hander in his tracks.
They have begun negotiations with agent Steve Hilliard on a contract extension they hope will keep Lackey in Anaheim for at least another five years. The deal could cost about $80 million.
"It's a great place to play, obviously," Lackey said, when asked if he wanted to remain in Anaheim. "But I feel like I've done some things that need to be taken care of."
Translation: Lackey will gladly remain an Angel, as long as the team rewards him with a contract worthy of a staff ace on a perennial contender.
"I'd like to get it done before the regular season," Lackey said. "But I'll do my thing on the field regardless of what's going on. Motivation is not my problem. Hitting is. I've seen six strikes this year."
He's thrown a few too. Lackey had a nice 43-pitch workout Saturday, giving up two runs and four hits in three innings, striking out two and inducing two double-play grounders.
"John had nice fastball command, good command of his breaking ball, and he threw some really good changeups too," Scioscia said. "At the plate, he's not really locked in."
Lackey, who began 2008 on the disabled list, is aligned to start the April 6 season opener against Oakland. It would be his third opening-day start.
"It's always an honor to go first, especially with a staff as good as ours," Lackey said. "You take pride in being the guy to set the tone for the guys following you."
Kelvim Escobar increased his bullpen workout from 35 to 45 pitches, all fastballs, on Saturday. The right-hander, who is well ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery, will probably begin throwing breaking balls later this week.
"I feel great, this is very exciting, I never thought I'd be in this position at this point," Escobar said.
"But at the same time, I'm trying to be smart. I'm doing what they tell me. I'm not going to push myself trying to overthrow and test my arm."
Escobar, who missed all of 2008 after going 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA in 2007, was not expected back until the All-Star break, but he appears on course to return by May.
He suffered a left calf strain in late February and is experiencing a little tightness in his lower back, but his shoulder feels fine.
"As soon as you change your angle throwing off the mound, it's normal to feel some tightness in your back," Escobar said.
"But my shoulder feels strong. I feel normal. If everything continues to go well, I'm going to surprise a lot of people this year."
The Angels roughed up Arizona starter Dan Haren for four runs and five hits in the first inning Saturday, Reggie Willits opening the game with a double and Brandon Wood highlighting the inning with a two-run triple.
Wood, Willits, Erick Aybar and Matt Brown each had two hits, and Brown drove in three runs for the Angels, who are 8-1 in Cactus League play.