Cubs’ John Lackey wins fifth straight, frustrated by short leash

PHOENIX – John Lackey gets it. Sort of.

“I’m definitely not getting any younger, and [they’re] trying to save me to be strong toward the end,” said the Cubs’ gruff and old-school veteran starter. “There’s definitely an argument for that.”

But the longtime rotation horse and playoff veteran has his own argument, which he made fruitlessly when his manager took the ball from him just one out and one home run into the sixth inning of Friday’s 8-3 victory over the Diamondbacks.

“I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball better than to be going five innings,” said Lackey, who said he’s been “a little bit” frustrated by the short innings and pitch-count leash he’s been on since the All-Star break.

John Lackey leaves Friday's start with one out in the fifth, after allowing a solo homer to Paul Goldschmidt.

Based on his starts since then, maybe they’re both right.

Lackey’s victory over the Diamondbacks in Friday night’s opener of a three-game series at Chase Field makes the Cubs 6-0 in Lackey’s starts since the start of July.

It makes him a major part of the Cubs’ surge into first place since the All-Star break – maintaining a one-game division lead over the Cardinals with Friday’s victory.

Lackey (10-9) has earned the win in the last five of those starts, albeit pitching five, five, six, five and 5 1/3 innings in those wins.

A 1-2-3 inning would have allowed Lackey to get through the sixth, manager Joe Maddon said. But when he gave up Paul Goldschmidt’s one-out homer to cut the Cubs’ lead to 5-3, he was done.

“I knew he would not be happy with that,” Maddon said. “Listen, he did his job. He had great stuff. My message to him is primarily that by not throwing too many pitches now, he’s going to be strong the rest of the year. And he’s throwing well; you’ve seen it. You’ve seen an uptick in velocity, the greater break on the breaking ball, and I think part of that is by not beating him up.”

It doesn’t seem to be an easy adjustment for Lackey, who has six 200-inning seasons and routinely pitched deep into October, winning World Series rings with the Angels, Red Sox and Cubs.

He said he’s not sure what to expect down the stretch as the division race heats up, whether he’ll be leaned on more or whether he should be prepared for more of the same.

“The way these analytics dudes are nowadays, they’re ready to get us out as soon as they can,” said Lackey, who recovered from early command issues Friday to roll two outs deep into the fifth before giving up a run.

After walking two of the first three he faced, he got Goldschmidt to end the first by grounding a 3-2 fastball to short for a double play. He went on to retire 11 of 13.

He’s 5-0 with a 3.22 ERA since finishing the first half with a 5.20 ERA and questions about whether he should be moved to the bullpen – or moved out.

“I think the rest was definitely good for me, for sure, with the All-Star break,” he said.

Enough that he doesn’t feel the need for more rest in the sixth inning on his start days.

“Which I’m very much aware of,” Maddon said. “But I want him pitching in October.”

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