John Lackey returns as Cubs move forward with six-man rotation

John Lackey returns as Cubs move forward with six-man rotation

John Lackey hadn't pitched in a game in almost a month, but naturally came out firing with a no-hitter through four innings Sunday.

Of course. Would you expect anything less with this Cubs team?

In a way, it was almost a worst-case scenario for Joe Maddon and the Cubs as Lackey kept the Giants hitless through the first 13 outs.

Before the Cubs' wild 3-2 walk-off win in 13 innings Sunday, Maddon said he wanted to limit Lackey to around 80 pitches, which could've meant putting a run at history on the backburner.

That situation never played out, however, as Eduardo Nunez lined a double to right-center with one out in the fifth inning and Lackey was removed after five with 76 pitches under his belt.

The veteran right-hander showed no ill effects from the shoulder injury that has sidelined him since Aug. 14, dialing it up to the low 90s with his fastball and showing his typical command.

"I felt pretty good," Lackey said. "I was locating the ball pretty well today. We had a good mix goin' on.

"You're not gonna feel nothing. It's just not possible. This time of year and this point in my career. There's things you gotta grind through; there's things you gotta adjust to. I feel like I can do that pretty well."

Lackey allowed two runs (one earned) while striking out four.

[SHOP: Get your Cubs gear here]

Prior to Sunday's game, Maddon confirmed the Cubs will move forward with a six-man rotation, with Mike Montgomery getting the start Wednesday in Milwaukee.

With a big lead in the NL Central and a playoff spot all but assured, the Cubs are aiming to keep every pitcher at the top of their game for a potential World Series run.

"Just trying to keep guys fresh for the rest of the year," Maddon said. "It's no more complicated than that. ... "I think every factor that can be considered right now, just makes all the sense in the world."

Maddon pointed to the rest of baseball, where young pitchers are being shut down for the season and even veterans are worn down by the grind of a six-month slate of games. 

Maddon acknowledged veteran starters like Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester may not like the addition of a sixth man to the rotation as creatures of habit, but everything is about winning that final game of the season.

He also referenced the way Arrieta ran into a wall in the postseason after pitching by far the most innings of his career.

"At the end of the day, these guys have been trained to think a certain way," Maddon said. "And I get that. I totally get it. But I also believe the training that really surpasses the conventional part is to get to a World Series.

"Last year, we saw it right before our very eyes with Jake and the jump that he had encountered and what it meant at the end of the season.

"Right now, our starters are pitching probably as well as they have all year. So I like to think that if we continue along this path, we can keep that kind of freshness about them."

Seven Cubs in line to advance to next round of MLB All-Star Game voting

Seven Cubs in line to advance to next round of MLB All-Star Game voting

In the second and final update before the first round of voting closes, the Cubs are still all over All-Star Game voting.

It’s basically status quo in the update. Willson Contreras and Javy Baez are still blowing away the field at their positions, with more than twice as many votes as the closest player.

Kris Bryant remains solidly in second at third base. Anthony Rizzo fell to third behind Freddie Freeman of the Braves, but he is still comfortably ahead of Max Muncy of the Dodgers for the top three spot that will advance him to MLB’s new Starters Election.

All three Cubs outfielders are set to advance as well. Albert Almora Jr. moved up from fifth to fourth and Jason Heyward moved up from seventh to fifth. Interestingly, Bryce Harper is the odd man out, for now, sitting 10th among NL outfielders.

That gives the Cubs seven players set to advance to the Starters Election. Voting for this round closes Friday at 3 p.m. CT. The Starters Election features the top three at each individual position and top nine among outfielders.


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's so good to be with the Director of Morale

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's so good to be with the Director of Morale

Luke Stuckmeyer and producer Eric Strobel welcome Frederic, aka the Cubs' unofficial Director of Morale. Fred takes us through the origins and growth of his fandom and social media persona (1:30), before discussing how Jake Arrieta's dominance announced the Cubs as contenders (7:30) and the now-ubiquitous hard hats in the bleachers (16:00). Finally, Fred and the guys talk about this year's team, including the lack of strikeout stuff on the pitching staff (22:30) and the unicorn that is Javy Baez (30:00). 

You can listen to the entire thing right here or in the embedded player below: