John Lackey threw a bullpen session and Bobby Valentine “was very impressed”

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John Lackey is out for the entire season following Tommy John elbow surgery, but has advanced far enough in his recovery that he threw a 45-pitch bullpen session yesterday at Yankee Stadium.

And Bobby Valentine liked what he saw, telling Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston:

He threw with an ease of motion and with perfect location. I was very impressed with what I saw. He’s feeling really good about his progress. From what I remember the last time I saw him throwing and what I saw today, it looked like different people. He said it was a different effort, he was throwing through so much pain in the past.

Plenty of Red Sox fans were angry to learn that Lackey is merely allowed to hang out in the clubhouse while injured, so his rejoining the rotation next year may be a shock to everyone’s system, but he’s owed $15.25 million plus another $15.25 million in 2014.

He pitched horribly enough before undergoing surgery that Lackey likely won’t be handed a starting spot, but by the time spring training rolls around he’ll be about 17 months removed from surgery and should be fully recovered.

Braves clinch NL East title

Ender Inciarte
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So much for a last-minute, nail-biting finish to this division race. The Braves cemented their division title with a dominant 5-3 finish over the Phillies on Saturday, laying claim to the NL East title for the first time since 2013.

The Braves asserted themselves right off the bat after amassing a four-run lead from Johan Camargo and Freddie Freeman, both of whom cleared the bases with two-run singles in the first two innings. Ronald Acuna Jr., meanwhile, found another way to make his presence known after swiping his 15th stolen base of the year and joining Alex Rodriguez, Orlando Cepeda, and Mike Trout as one of the youngest players to collect at least 25 home runs and 15 stolen bags in major league history.

Not to be outdone, Atlanta right-hander Mike Foltynewicz delivered one of the strongest starts of his season to date. The righty set down six innings of no-hit ball against the Phillies, and, with just 62 pitches under his belt, looked ready to go the distance before he lost his bid on Odubel Herrera‘s leadoff single in the seventh.

Unfortunately for the Braves, the Phillies not only upended Foltynewicz’s no-hit attempt, but the shutout as well. In the eighth inning, Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins wrestled two RBI singles from Atlanta’s bullpen and brought Philadelphia within one run of tying the game. Hoskins was the last Phillies batter to reach base, however, as Jonny Venters and Arodys Vizcaino tossed a combined 1 2/3 scoreless innings (backed by a final RBI hit from Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of the eighth) to cap the Braves’ win — and the NL East title.

With the loss, the Phillies sit seven games back of a wild card spot in the National League. They’ll need to outpace the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Cardinals in order to make 2018 their first postseason-qualifying year since 2011.