John Lackey and catcher Miguel Montero

Lackey brings the edge back to Cubs’ repeat effort in 2017

SHARE Lackey brings the edge back to Cubs’ repeat effort in 2017
SHARE Lackey brings the edge back to Cubs’ repeat effort in 2017

MESA, Ariz. — Two weeks into camp, spring training finally has arrived for John Lackey and the other veterans in the Cubs’ starting rotation.

The four returning starters make their spring debuts in succession, starting Saturday, with Lackey’s first start Tuesday against Team Italy.

“We’ll see,” Lackey deadpanned on Thursday. “We’ll see if it fits into my golf schedule.”

Put one repeat in the books for the Cubs already, before the season even starts.

Lackey, 38, is back. Fully healthy, he said — and in full “ain’t-here-for-a-haircut,” “big-boy-games-are-different” form.

“There’s different things to get done here in the course of a spring training,” manager Joe Maddon said, smiling at his right-hander’s comments. “Short game. Putting. Off the tee — who knows?”

If you weren’t sure that the Cubs would have any edge left, coming off their celebrated, complete-with-luxurious-perks championship, just ask the clubhouse’s Mr. Edge whether he expects to be a 200-inning pitcher.

“That’s what I’ve been for 15 years,” he scoffed, “so yeah.”

Next question.

That next big question might have something to do with those 15 years.

Lackey, a World Series champion with three teams, is in the final year of a two-year contract and isn’t sure what comes after that.

“I feel great,” he said. “I’m just playing this year. We’ll see what happens at the end of the year. If I still feel good, I’ll keep playing.”

One scout who saw a lot of Lackey last year said that losing his command would be the only thing that could keep Lackey from being able to help a team. “He could pitch till his arm blows,” the scout said. “You know he’s going to compete.”

Whether the Cubs would consider re-signing a 39-year-old Lackey, Maddon said, “I believe there’s a lot of good baseball left in him.

“I just think last year I screwed it up by permitting him to warm up.”

Lackey was among the league leaders in innings pitched when he went on the disabled list in mid-August with a shoulder strain — after twice warming up in the bullpen for possible relief work between starts in extra-inning games on July 31 and Aug. 11.

“Until I had the little time on the DL, I was about as good as I’ve ever been honestly,” he said. “Having to warm up a couple times in extra innings probably didn’t help. That probably ended up getting me. I wish that wouldn’t have happened.”

Lackey said he “probably never got back to 100 percent” even after returning from the DL three weeks later.

“You’re trying to win the game, and here’s this guy that says, ‘I can do it,’ ’’ Maddon said. “The days looked right regarding when he had pitched previously, but that was something I should not have permitted.”

That won’t happen this year. In fact, Maddon expects to monitor Lackey’s scheduled workload even more than he did last year.

“I know he’s not going to like to be taken out of some games in his mind’s eye earlier [than appropriate], but he needs to be,” Maddon said, “in order to maybe really finish strongly this year and then possibly promote [pitching] next year again.”

Lackey isn’t looking that far ahead, personally or for the team, even if this might be the Cubs’ best foreseeable shot at another title, with Lackey, Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Koji Uehara all free agents at the end of the year.

“Whatever happens next year is kind of, who cares, you know what I mean?” he said. “We’ll worry about that when we get there.”

Whether he gets to next year, Lackey knows he doesn’t plan to finish his carer like ex-teammate David Ross.

“There will be no retirement tour,” Lackey said. “I just won’t show up the next year.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.


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