John Lackey needs to go to the bullpen, and I’m guessing the Cubs will notify the ornery pitcher of that as soon as they find someone with a death wish. The technical baseball term for sending a sucker to confront him is ‘‘designated for assassination.’’
I don’t want to make Lackey out to be Vlad the Impaler. But unless you have no regard for your personal well-being, you don’t want to be the bearer of bad news to the big right-hander. And by bad news, I mean telling him something like, ‘‘We’re out of 2 percent milk, so you’ll have to settle for 1 percent.’’
Have you ever been stung by a jellyfish? Amateur hour. A paper cut. If manager Joe Maddon’s reaction to the mere idea of sending the cranky Lackey to the pen is any indication, coming into contact with thousands of microscopic lances filled with venom is a party by comparison.
You almost could hear Maddon’s stomach churning when a recent conversation with reporters turned to the struggling Lackey and a possible new home in the bullpen.
‘‘Just to try to take him out of a game — and then try to tell him something like that?’’ Maddon said. ‘‘My God. Exponentially worse.’’
We’ve seen Lackey mouthing very colorful words when Maddon comes to the mound to take the ball from him. We’ve seen him lash out when a teammate makes a mistake. So, yeah, a demotion would go over real well.
But he’s 5-9 with a 5.20 ERA this season, and the 24 home runs he has given up are the most in the National League. The Cubs recently added pitcher Jose Quintana via trade, and he was spectacular in his debut with the team Sunday. Kyle Hendricks should be back from the disabled list soon, and that will leave even less room in the rotation.
When Lackey gets off the disabled list with plantar fasciitis (even his injuries sound tyrannical), he should be sent immediately to the bullpen. But how to tell him without getting hurt?
• Lose the message in translation. Have teammate Koji Uehara give him the news in Japanese. The obvious risk here is that Lackey, a native Texan, might be fluent in several Asian languages. And that he might be a seventh-degree black belt in karate.
• Use a go-between to soften the blow. Have teammate Jon Lester get the bad news from Maddon and pass it on to Lackey. Lester is like Lackey’s little brother and presumably can tell him anything without fear of permanent injury.
However, this brings to mind ‘‘The Godfather’’ scene in which movie producer Jack Woltz tells consigliere Tom Hagen that under no circumstance will singer Johnny Fontane land the lead in an upcoming film, something Don Corleone wants for Fontane, his godson.
‘‘If your car can take me to the airport,’’ Hagen says. ‘‘Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.’’
That led to a horse’s severed head ending up in Woltz’s bed, which leads to an obvious question: Does Maddon have a horse? I don’t know, but he does have an RV he adores. If he wakes up to engine fluid on his sheets, he’ll know what happened.
• Slip the bullpen demotion into the end of a phone conversation. Something like: ‘‘You’re so right, John. There indeed is nothing like that moment when you have a bull elk in your sights and the bow and the arrow feel like an extension of your body. Wonderful sensation. . . . Hold on, I think I’m losing you. . . . Lots of static. . . . Speaking of bull, you’re headed to the pen. . . . John? . . . Is that static or apoplectic gurgling sounds? . . . Oh, hey, my ride’s here. Gotta go!’’
• Sweet-talk him. This is where Maddon comes in. He’s the one guy who can find a way to turn a negative into a positive, who can make Lackey think he actually is getting a promotion. He’s the one guy who can turn Lackey’s frown upside . . . well, let’s be realistic here. He can turn that eternal frown into a facial hyphen.
‘‘John,’’ Maddon will say, ‘‘you’ve been spectacular. You are spectacular. Historically, some of your best work has been done in the seventh inning. Probably. I think. Anyway, that’s why I’m naming you the starter of the seventh inning! No, wait. Brainstorm warning! You come in as the ace of the seventh inning! Every other pitcher comes in as a reliever, but not John Lackey! You come in as the Bob Gibson of the seventh inning! By the way, Gibby once played minor-league ball in Columbus, Georgia. You don’t know heat until you’ve experienced Columbus in July.
‘‘Now, hold on, John. What are you doing? Put down the ax, John!’’
• Tell him the truth. His pitching isn’t worthy of a spot in the rotation. What’s the worst that can happen?
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