John Lackey was activated from 22 days on the disabled list to start the homestand finale against the Astros on Sunday. It would be just his second start of the season, and just his second start since Sept. 25, 2011. The Red Sox were unsure of what they could expect from him. Four, five innings, maybe.

They got more than they expected.

“Honestly, it was better than expected in most ways today,” manager John Farrell said.

Lackey went six innings, giving up one run on five hits and two walks with four strikeouts. He earned the win in a 6-1 victory, improving to 1-1, and lowering his ERA from 4.15 to 2.61. The win was his first since Aug. 23, 2011, at Texas, a span of 614 days, ending a career-worst stretch of seven starts without a win.

Perhaps the lowly Astros -- owners of the worst record (7-18) in the American League, whose batters have more strikeouts than any other team -- were the right opponent for a pitcher returning from the disabled list. Still, Lackey made his pitches when he needed to.

“[He] probably gave us more than we anticipated going into the ballgame,” Farrell said. “After that first inning, a lot of two-pitch outs allowed him to be efficient. I think he had a little reach-back in the sixth inning to get out of the bases-loaded, one-out jam. Just a very solid outing for him overall.”

Lackey missed all of 2012 after Tommy John surgery following the 2011 season. In his first start of the season, on April 6 in Toronto, he walked off the mound after his 76th pitch, clutching his surgically repaired right elbow. Initially the situation looked more dire than it ended up being -- a biceps strain that put him on the DL the following day, until he was able to get back on a mound Sunday afternoon.