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Cubs audition impressive Montgomery as starter in Lackey’s spot

Mike Montgomery pitching Saturday night at Coors Field.

DENVER – Not surprisingly, John Lackey doesn’t plan to spend any more time on the disabled list than he’s forced to with that shoulder strain that put him there Friday.

“I’m not just taking a vacation,” said the all-business veteran of two World Series clinchers, who plans to be in play for another this fall.

Until then, the Cubs have a 13-game lead in the National League Central after Saturday’s 9-2 victory over the Rockies, and a chance to use Lackey’s vacated spot to peer into the futures market with their rotation.

That’s where left-hander Mike Montgomery comes into focus – especially after an impressive performance in his first start as a Cub Saturday night.

“I like him as a starter,” said manager Joe Maddon, who plans leave him in the rotation until Lackey returns as the Cubs evaluate him for a possible spot in next year’s rotation. “He can be really good. Not just pedestrian. This guy can be very good.”

Pitching on a strict pitch limit, Montgomery took a no-hitter into the fifth, and after giving up a one-out homer to Nick Hundley on his 60th pitch he was done, with a 7-1 lead and two outs short of qualifying for a win.

“I was a little pissed, but I understand the situation and the pitch count,” said Montgomery, who talked with the Cubs about an eventual starting role at the time he was acquired last month in a trade from Seattle. “I respect the decision.”

“I’d love to have left him out there, but moving him forward I thought it was the right thing to do,” Maddon said.

For a pitching staff that suddenly has three key members on the DL – its top two setup men – the next big question involves how long Lackey might be sidelined.

“You don’t know for sure until you throw,” said Lackey, who left Sunday’s start in the seventh inning because of the soreness – which persisted into an attempted bullpen session Wednesday.

An MRI Thursday revealed the strain.

Lackey, 37, historically has been a workhorse and ranked fourth in the league in innings pitched when he went on the DL.

He also warmed up in the bullpen twice in the span of 12 days recently as an emergency option in extra innings.

When asked, he stopped short of suggesting that might have played a role in the injury.

“I mean, that’s … I just work here, man,” he said.

Notes: Struggling catcher Miguel Montero’s first three-hit game of the season prompted a postgame question about whether the Cubs will carry three catchers on their playoff roster. Maddon didn’t exactly offer a vote of confidence. “You have to wait till you get there,” he said. “I don’t know. I think we did it with the Angels in 2005.” … Kris Bryant’s 469-foot, three-run homer to center in the fifth gave him an NL-leading 31 home runs, passing Colorado’s Nolan Arenado. His four RBIs in the game made for 10 in three days and 83 this season (fifth in NL). … Cubs starters are undefeated in 18 games this month with a 1.50 ERA. …Right-hander Trevor Cahill‘s unheralded 4 2/3 innings in relief of Montgomery preserved a depleted bullpen and gave him victories in consecutive outings (also Tuesday’s scoreless spot start against Milwaukee).