After posting a 5.12 ERA through his first two seasons in a Red Sox uniform and sitting out 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, John Lackey will make his 2013 Fenway Park debut on Sunday afternoon.
Lackey, who showed promise in his first start April 6, throwing as hard as 95 mph while striking out eight in 4 1/3 innings, was quickly forced to the 15-day disabled list due to a right biceps strain that caused him to exit the game early.
After 20 days on the shelf, Lackey returns as the Red Sox look for the four-game sweep over the Astros, who have never won at Fenway Park.
"What I recall from  is that in the second half of that year he pitched extremely well," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Lackey, who lowered his ERA to 3.97 after the 2010 All-Star break. "I think part of it was to adjust to the lineups in the AL East and particularly the conditions; smaller ballparks, didn't have the benefit of the colder nights on the West Coast that he's been accustomed to for the other part of his career.
"And I think the one thing that we've seen, whether it's Spring Training or his first start up in Toronto, I see a guy who is pitching much like he did in the second half of that first year."
Lackey made one rehab start with Double-A Portland on Tuesday, throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out five.
Farrell said that he didn't mind if Lackey could only go five innings on Sunday, considering the Red Sox have an off-day Monday and the bullpen would be able to recover.
"We've got an idea with a certain pitch range that he'll approach at some point, and that will be the end of it for the day," said Farrell. "The fact that he got up and down four times his last outing, he was up and down into the fifth inning his first outing. That's kind of the range that we're looking at going into tomorrow."
The Astros have struggled this season with runners in scoring position. Over the past two games, they've gone 1-for-24 in those situations.
"The reason why you have nine guys in the lineup is it's never the responsibility of one guy, whether or not they're hitting third or fourth," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "It's the entire team, and each guy is going to get their turn. They'll have to keep the line moving and hopefully get a quality at-bat and move the guy 90 feet. That puts us in better position to score runs."
Right-hander Bud Norris will get the starting nod for Houston after throwing five innings of one-run ball against the Mariners on Tuesday. Norris will be making his first career start at Fenway.
Red Sox: Hanrahan on his way back
Closer Joel Hanrahan could return to the Red Sox on their next road trip, which begins in Toronto on Tuesday, Farrell said.
Hanrahan pitched an inning for Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday and gave up two runs on two hits, including a homer.
"He came out of yesterday fine," Farrell said on Saturday. "He may have felt a slight twinge on one pitch but didn't have any effect after that. I think the most important thing is that he felt good today and he got through the inning of work last night. But with anyone, time down, there's going to be the need for some repetition to sharpen up."
Andrew Bailey has successfully filled in for Hanrahan, going 5-for-6 in save situations. Bailey has 20 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings this season. Farrell wouldn't say how he would handle the closer role when Hanrahan returns.
Astros: Gonzalez a bright spot
Shortstop Marwin Gonzalez wasn't in the Astros' Opening Day lineup against Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison, while Ronny Cedeno earned the nod instead. Since then, Gonzalez has become one of the most consistent hitters in Houston's lineup.
Gonzalez went 2-for-4 with his third stolen base of the season against the Red Sox on Saturday night, raising his average to .321. He had just three steals in 80 games last season, hitting .234 with a .607 OPS, though he hit .333 at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
• Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino was sidelined for the third straight game due to back spasms. He's questionable for Sunday's game, though if he isn't ready by the first game in Toronto on Tuesday, the Red Sox may be forced to place Victorino on the DL.
• Daniel Bard entered in the eighth inning of Saturday's game and walked two batters before being removed.
• Astros owner Jim Crane, who has a house on Nantucket, was at Fenway Park on Saturday for the second day in a row. He's already attended several road games this season.