LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If Red Sox pitcher John Lackey was not yet prepared for the regular season entering Saturday, a wacky third inning in a 6-3 loss to the Braves at Champion Stadium probably did the trick.
Speedy Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer attempted to reach base with a bunt that landed on the grass between the pitcher's mound and the dirt between first and second base.
However, instead of letting Gold Glove second baseman Dustin Pedroia try to make the play, Lackey lunged, gloved the ball and flipped it to first to beat Schafer by a step for the out.
"I just asked [Pedroia] if he liked that one," Lackey said. "He was pretty fired up. It was fun."
Added Red Sox manager John Farrell: "It was a heck of a play. He came out of it without turning an ankle. It looked like an awkward play."
But Lackey's attempt to crack highlight reels was only the beginning.
Two batters later, Freddie Freeman lined a pitch off the back of Lackey's left hamstring right below his backside. Lackey attempted to throw Freeman out and inadvertently earned some revenge by plunking Atlanta's first baseman with the throw.
Lackey insisted that he was fine.
"The line drive, fortunately, catches him in the flesh part of the leg, so we were able to avoid anything more severe," Farrell said.
Lackey's eventful third was part of an outing that lasted 4 2/3 innings. He surrendered five runs on 10 hits, including home runs to left field off the bats of Braves middle infielders Andrelton Simmons and Dan Uggla.
After a Ryan Doumit double just missed clearing the center-field wall 400 feet from home plate, Farrell pulled Lackey after 83 pitches, 58 of which were strikes.
Despite a day that saw his Spring Training ERA climb to 9.49, Lackey is encouraged by his recent performances.
"I definitely feel like I threw the ball better this time than last time," Lackey said. "Had a good bullpen session between my last two [starts]."
Lackey was particularly happy with his slider. Even though Uggla sent one of them -- clocked at 83 mph -- over the left-field wall, Lackey liked how he threw the breaking ball on Saturday.
"I felt like my slider was better this time," Lackey said. "I threw a couple of good ones. The last one I threw, the homer wasn't a good one, but for the most part that improved."
Farrell was glad to see Lackey reach 83 pitches as the veteran continues to build up strength ahead of the regular season, but he admitted the right-hander struggled to hit his spots at the plate against the Braves.
"In terms of the work load, a progressive step," Farrell said. "But still, there were some balls that found the middle of the plate here today."
In his next start, Lackey has no plans of dialing back his intensity. The Red Sox want their starters to work up to 95-100 pitches by the time Opening Day arrives. As for getting roughed up in his first three starts of spring, Lackey is not worried. His focus is simply getting his body ready for the games that count in the standings.
"It's Spring Training. I'm not real concerned about a whole lot right now," Lackey said. "I'm just trying to build up my arm strength and get ready for the real deal."
Bradley optimistic despite struggles at plate
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Red Sox outfielder Grady Sizemore has been one of the great stories of Major League Baseball this spring, overshadowing his competitor to replace departed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury: Jackie Bradley Jr.
As Sizemore, 31, makes an impressive comeback from missing the past two seasons due to back and knee injuries, Bradley has struggled. He entered Saturday's game against the Braves at Champion Stadium batting .182 (8-for-44) with only two runs scored in 14 games.
He finished 1-for-3 with an RBI single in Boston's 6-3 loss to Atlanta. The base hit helped him bring his average up from .167 to .191 in the past five games.
Despite his struggles, Bradley, who will turn 24 in April, remains optimistic as the final week of Spring Training approaches. Although his numbers are not at an ideal level, he likes the progress he has made in changing his plate approach.
"Being aggressive," said Bradley, of how he has improved this spring. "Taking a lot of swings early. That's what I've really been focusing on, not so much being passive, but just trying to be aggressive, see some pitches and get your swings in."
Bradley's struggles this spring mirror those he endured in 37 games with the Red Sox last season. He batted just .189 (18-for-95) with 31 strikeouts.
However, Bradley has otherwise wielded a productive bat at every other stop in his professional career. He has batted .297 (243-for-819) with 69 doubles and 154 runs scored during three seasons in Boston's Minor League system.
Although Bradley's time to patrol center field at Fenway Park on an everyday basis has not yet arrived, he just wants the opportunity to keep working on his game.
"Hopefully, a long, healthy season," Bradley said, of his hopes for 2014. "That's what everybody's striving for because you can't do anything on the field unless you're healthy. Hopefully, it's a healthy one, and everything else will take care of itself."
Cordero enjoying comeback bid with Red Sox
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Outfielder Grady Sizemore isn't Boston's only comeback story this spring. After spending a year out of baseball, non-roster invitee Francisco Cordero is making a strong case to join the Red Sox in the Majors.
Cordero, 38, kept his Spring Training ERA at 0.00 by pitching yet another scoreless inning of relief in a 6-3 loss to the Braves on Saturday at Champion Stadium.
Following his outing, Cordero felt great.
"I feel like a little boy again," Cordero said. "After spending an off year in the Dominican [Republic], and now you came to Spring Training with the team who has just won the World Series last year, I've been having a lot of fun."
Cordero could potentially be with Boston on Opening Day in Baltimore if left-hander Craig Breslow is not ready to go on March 31. Breslow threw 20 pitches during live batting practice on Friday and is scheduled to make his first appearance Monday.
The Red Sox have not made a decision on Breslow's availability for Opening Day.
Meanwhile, Cordero, a former All-Star with 329 saves, offers Boston an experienced bullpen arm with a proven track record of success. Although he has faltered in recent years, his results this spring are difficult to ignore.
"He's done an outstanding job," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He's used all his pitches. Seemingly every time he's been in a fastball count, he's going to go to something offspeed. And he's come in here with no guarantees of any kind and just taken every opportunity and he's made the most of them."
Cordero is making his mark on the Red Sox, but the veteran believes the club is making a great impression on him as a player. This Spring Training, he remarked, has been totally different than any other he has taken part in during his MLB career.
"This is a team that plays hard, but at the same time, they have fun with it," Cordero said. "So, I'm enjoying my time. I enjoy every day here in Spring Training. I'm having fun, too."
With the chance to appear in his first Major League game since Aug. 1, 2012, Cordero is anxious for the season to arrive. Although his whereabouts on March 31 remain undecided, he is prepared for whatever comes next.
"I don't know what's going to happen, but I've enjoyed my time," Cordero said. "I'm trying to do my best and see what happens in the end."
Joe Morgan is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.