ATLANTA – If Cubs right-hander John Lackey didn’t make it clear enough with his 5-1 victory over the Braves on Tuesday night, he spelled it out after the game.
There is no job in the bullpen in his future, regardless of how he pitches in the second half.
“That ship sailed. That ain’t gonna happen,” said Lackey, who retired 12 of the final 15 he faced Tuesday before being lifted for a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the sixth.
“There’s two places for me to be: starting or at home,” he added. “Except for the playoffs. In big games we can compromise.”
The subject arose over the weekend in the wake of the Jose Quintana trade, when manager Joe Maddon was asked about whether he’d consider moving Lackey to the bullpen if he continued to struggle. At 5-9 with a 5.20 ERA, Lackey endured his worst first half of a season since he pitched with an arm injury in 2011.
“We’re not there yet,” said Maddon, who seemed to wonder who might even be the one to tell Lackey if he ever got to that point.
“Just to try to take him out of a game, and then try to tell him something like that, my God,” Maddon said. “Exponentially worse.”
The manager said he envisioned a “better version” of Lackey in the second half after healing up and getting an extended rest between these last two starts.
“When I originally warmed up [Tuesday] my arm felt great,” said Lackey, 38, who endured a 2-hour, 30-minute rain delay before the game started. “I was kind of anxious to see how that would translate.”
His start kept up a four-game streak for the rotation in which the starters went 4-0 with a 1.05 ERA.
A sign of things to come after a 4.66 ERA for the group in the first half?
“It’s hard to predict the future,” Lackey said. “But I think we have track records. We have guys that have done it before. And we have guys that take pride in what they do and want to do better than we did in the first half, for sure.”
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