Continuing their push for pitching, the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday added veteran starter John Lackey to their mix.
Lackey, 35, and minor-league left-hander Corey Littrell were acquired from the Boston Red Sox for slumping outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig and right-hander Joe Kelly, the loser Wednesday in the Cardinals' 12-1 defeat in San Diego.
Combined with the acquisition Wednesday of Cleveland's Justin Masterson, the trade further bolsters the Cardinals' rotation and clears a spot for heralded rookie Oscar Taveras to play every day in right field.
Craig's presence, and his proven track record, was holding back the 22-year-old Taveras, who is batting .210 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 33 games. Taveras homered in the Cardinals' 6-2 triumph over San Diego on Thursday afternoon, hours after the trade was made official.
"I felt good about our club before we did these deals," Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak told The Associated Press. "When you look at adding a top-of-the-rotation starter with Lackey, getting somebody like Masterson, who has a history of eating innings, when you look at our rotation prior to this deal, sometimes our third, fourth and fifth starters were having trouble going deep in games, putting a lot of pressure on our bullpen.
"I think this will help alleviate some of that."
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Lackey is 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA in 21 starts this season, with 32 walks and 116 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings. He is 149-114 with a 4.02 ERA in a 12-year career with the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels and the Red Sox. Lackey defeated the Cardinals 6-1 in the clinching Game 6 of the World Series last Oct. 30.
Lackey, who was 19-9 with a 3.01 ERA in 2007, is in the final season of a five-year, $82.5 million contract he signed with the Red Sox in December 2009. The deal includes a team option at $500,000 for 2015, which makes him very affordable for the Cardinals if they decide to bring him back.
Lackey missed the 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The operation activated the 2015 team option.
Craig, 30, has been one of the Cardinals top run producers, with a .307 average and 92 RBIs in 2012 and a .315 average and 97 RBIs in 2013. But he hasn't come close to duplicating those numbers this season, batting just .237 with seven homers and 44 RBIs in 97 games.
Craig's on-base percentage of .291 and slugging percentage of .346 are far off his career averages, and he was batting just .122 (6-for-49) in July. He has not homered since May 29.
Last season, Craig led all major-leaguers with a .454 average with runners in scoring position. This season, he was batting .250 with men in scoring position. Craig signed a five-year, $31 million contract in March 2013 that is paying him $2.75 million this season. Craig will earn $5.5 million in 2015, $9 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017. The Red Sox hold a 2018 option on Craig at $13 million.
Kelly, 26, was 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA in seven starts after going 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA in 2013. Kelly spent most of this season on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring.
Kelly rejoined the rotation July 11 and made four starts, going 1-1 with a 7.32 ERA. He allowed four runs (earned) on seven hits in five innings Wednesday, walking one and striking out five.
"When you think about the success this organization has had over the last three years, Joe Kelly and Allen Craig have been a major part of that," Mozeliak said. "Pulling away from that is never easy."
The Cardinals' bullpen was pummeled in the game against the Padres on Wednesday. Carlos Martinez, Randy Choate and Seth Maness combined to allow eight runs in a loss manager Mike Matheny said was one of the team's worst of the season.
Craig and Kelly will be back in St. Louis on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when the Red Sox play a three-game series at Busch Stadium.
Littrell, 22, was the Red Sox fifth-round draft selection in 2013 out of the Kentucky. The 6-3, 185-pounder was 5-5 with a 3.60 ERA in 19 games, 18 of them starts, for Class A Salem of the Carolina League.