Cubs

Cubs prepare October bullpen with the John Lackey Experience


John Lackey is now a relief pitcher. 

After saying all year Lackey would not move to the bullpen at any point, the Cubs warmed him up and brought him in the fourth inning of the final regular season game of 2017 Sunday. 

It marked only the second regular season relief appearance of Lackey's career and the first since June 27, 2004 — a span of 4,844 days.

Lackey gave up a pair of doubles to Joey Votto and Adam Duvall, taking his 12th loss of the season. The result meant nothing to Lackey and the Cubs, but the decision could mean everything this October.

The Cubs don't have to announce their National League Division Series lineup until Friday morning, but when they do, expect the 38-year-old, 15-year veteran to be on the roster and pitching out of the bullpen.

"Give him a test out of the bullpen — see what it looked like, see how he felt, that kinda thing," Joe Maddon said. "He gave up a run, whatever it was, but I thought he had a really good slider coming out of the 'pen and his velocity was normal. So I thought he looked actually pretty good."

Maddon never wanted to move Lackey to a relief role earlier in the year and Lackey admitted back then he was not open to something like that.

But everybody's priorities change in October and Lackey is now "amenable" to the role with a chance to ride off into the sunset with a fourth World Series ring.

Maddon confirmed the Lackey Relief Experience is an option in the postseason, where he's actually pitched three times as a reliever in his career prior to 2017.

Lackey will likely push one of the Justins (either Wilson or Grimm) off the 25-man roster and serve as another long relief option alongside Mike Montgomery. The Cubs will roll with some combination of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and Jose Quintana as their four-man postseason rotation.

But with Arrieta still not 100 percent coming off a hamstring injury, Lackey is there as another guy who could come in early in a ballgame and is stretched out enough to pitch multiple innings if need be. There's also always the extra innings factor, too, where Lackey's length would be an asset.

Sunday was just about the Cubs getting him back in game action as a reliever since he's gone 130 straight appearances as a starting pitcher since his last postseason relief appearance as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2013.

In classic Lackey fashion, he declined to comment on his outing and new role after Sunday's game.

"It's just an option; it's a consideration," Maddon said. "We wanted to put him out there. Part of it's just for him to warm up and come into a game, see what that feels like. He's not really done it a whole lot. That's all that was about."