Experienced Lackey ready for ‘new challenge’ of Game 4

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John Lackey throws against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of Game 4 of baseball’s National League Division Series in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio J. Sanchez, Pool)

LOS ANGELES – If you want to talk pitching, Cubs manager Joe Maddon says, pull up a chair next to veteran Cubs right-hander John Lackey.

“He really understands what he’s doing out there and how to manipulate and work against certain hitters,’’ Maddon said. “He knows how to utilize a hitter’s aggressiveness against him. He knows who to stay away from in certain moments. He knows what to do. He has a really good feel for this part of the game. He really is a baseball junkie. Everything he does is calculated.’’

The Cubs will give the ball to Lackey for Game 4 of the NLCS Wednesday (7:08, FoxSports1, 670-AM), and from an experience standpoint, they couldn’t be in better hands. Lackey leads all active pitchers with 21 playoff starts. In those, plus three relief appearances, he owns a shipshape 8-5 record with a 3.22 ERA in postseason games.

I’ve been in several of them, but I had a long break in between World Series, so you realize how special they are and how hard it is to get there and how meaningful those games are, for sure,’’ Lackey said. “They’re tough to get to, and they’re tough to win.’’

Lackey started and won Game 7 of the World Series as a rookie with the Angels in 2002. And he started and won the clinching Game 6 of the World Series with the Red Sox in 2013.

After the Red Sox traded Lackey to the Cardinals at the trade deadline in 2014, he faced the Dodgers Game 3 of the and allowed one run in seven innings in a 3-1 victory at Busch Stadium. He has had success against the Dodgers in the regular season as well, with a 6-3 record and 1.75 ERA in 12 regular season games (11 starts), although none this season.

Lackey downplays those good numbers against the Dodgers, who will stack the lineup with lefties against him Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a new challenge. It’s going to be a new game,’’ he said. “[But] obviously I’ve pitched here several times. I feel pretty comfortable here.’’

After a two-week layoff, Lackey wasn’t sharp against the Giants in Game 4 of the NLDS in San Francisco last Wednesday when he allowed three runs on seven hits in four innings. A stiff shoulder had sidelined him from Aug 15 to Sept. 4, so his arm strength might not be back to 100 percent, Maddon said. There was also some rust.

I feel like physically I might be getting stronger, but as far as pitching once every two weeks the last couple times is not ideal sometimes,’’ Lackey said. “But it is what it is. I’m going to go out there, get after it, and try to execute some pitches.’’

Maddon thought Lackey’s velocity was “pretty good.” His slider, or as Maddon calls it, a slurve, has been one of the best in baseball this year.

“He probably wasn’t as sharp location-wise, but his stuff is absolutely there,’’ Maddon said. “The attitude is there. I know he’s going to be ready for the moment.’’

When Lackey’s not pitching, Maddon said he is the “funnest, most open, loudest guy there is.’’

But “he’s a cowboy when he pitches. He goes right after hitters. There’s not a whole lot hidden when John pitches.’’

Talented 20-year-old lefty Julio Urias will oppose Lackey, 37, quite the contrast in age. And perhaps guile.

“He knows in advance of the lineup tomorrow what he wants to do with each guy,’’ Maddon said. “He’ll pick his poison, who to pitch to and who to not. So I’ve really been impressed with his baseball acumen as a pitcher when you engage him in conversation.’’

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Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

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