The Red Sox have been looking for good news on the John Lackey front for most of the season, especially since he went on the disabled list nine days ago.

Yesterday they found some.

Lackey threw 40 fastballs in a side session that left both him and the club optimistic he has put the right elbow strain behind him. After a four-inning rehab start in the minors next Tuesday, Lackey is penciled in to be activated to start Sunday, June 5 against the Oakland A's at Fenway.

"I was happy with the way I was finishing stuff. I didn't have to think about anything," Lackey said of his bullpen session before last night's 4-2 win. "I was able to let it go. I wasn't feeling the same kind of bite that I had in my elbow."

Lackey received a cortisone shot in the elbow last week to relieve the discomfort that "hurt when I fully extended, kind of at the end of pitches. I didn't feel that today. Might have not let me finish some pitches quite like I wanted to, I guess."

"(Pitching coach) Curt (Young) and Lack were both thrilled,'' manager Terry Francona said. "The ball came out of his hand good. Lack felt good."

Exactly where Lackey will pitch Tuesday has yet to be determined but it will be monitored carefully to make sure there is no setback. Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the DL within two days of each other, and because Matsuzaka's return date remains a highly uncertain proposition, the club does not want any detours on Lackey's road back.