Perhaps it was a good thing that Red Sox manager John Farrell recently traveled to Dallas to visit with John Lackey. Otherwise, he may not have recognized the big right-hander.

Reached by phone yesterday as he prepared to leave today for Fort Myers, Farrell said Lackey has lost at least 10 pounds, likely more, during the final stages of his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery. He also expressed confidence that Lackey will be healthy and ready to pitch in spring training after missing all of last season.

"In talking with him, in being down with him in Texas, the freeness and the looseness he feels in his arm, this is the first time in a while that he's been able to experience that," Farrell said. "So, I'm expecting him to be a big part of our rotation this year."

Indeed, the Red Sox are counting on it. Because Lackey underwent surgery after the 2011 season, he has had extra time to recover. Rather than pushing to return to the mound in the typical 12-month rehabilitation window, he is 16 months removed from surgery.

And while lefty Franklin Morales, hard-throwing Rubby De La Rosa and knuckleballer Steven Wright may provide depth, the expectation is that Lackey won't have any substantial spring training limitations.

"Any time you don't have to rush that return to game activity, I think the better off you're going to be," Farrell said. "And this isn't a young pitcher that's trying to get established at the big league level. This is a guy that's well into a very successful major league career, and you may not have the same limitations on his workload as you would with a young pitcher."

And, perhaps for the first time in his Red Sox career, Lackey is healthy. He pitched with elbow discomfort throughout a dismal 2011, when he posted a 6.41 ERA that ranked higher than any Red Sox pitcher with at least 150 innings in a season.

Farrell is hopeful that Lackey can pitch more like he did in the second half of the 2010 season, when he posted a 3.97 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 102 innings.

"He pitched deep in the game routinely, even if he wasn't feeling 100 percent from a health standpoint," Farrell said. "When you look back at that second half, he pitched very well."