By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — In his age-37 season a year ago, Cubs right-hander John Lackey was among the National League leaders in innings pitched when he was shelved with a shoulder injury last August. Upon his return, Lackey never really got his mojo back, but all in all, he was still a key contributor in the Cubs’ season-long journey to a championship.
Now that Lackey is 38, the question looms: Will 2017 be his final season?
“I feel great,” Lackey said. “I am just playing this year. At the end of the year, if I feel good, I will keep playing.”
Lackey approaches each of his starts with an intense attitude and intensity, and 2017 may indeed be his last rodeo. He’s in the final season of a two-year, $32-million deal that he signed in December 2015. For the moment, Lackey just wants to find his top form so he can contribute to another championship push.
“I have been through a lot of long playoff runs,” Lackey said. “I know how to ease into these spring trainings after that. I am not reinventing anything. I have been at it a long time. I just go about trying to fine tune and execute. Until that little time on the DL (in 2016), I felt about as good as I ever did.”
The Cubs are trying to become the first NL team in 41 years to win back-to-back World Series, as the Reds were the last to do so in 1975 and 1976. Before winning with the Cubs, Lackey was a member of championship teams in 2002 with the Angels and 2013 with the Red Sox that didn’t repeat in their quest for a title.
“It is hard enough to win one, let alone two,” Lackey said. “It is really a tough thing to do. This team may be unique because of the youth in this room. We have a lot of guys who are still young and still hungry. Basically not tired, I guess.”
Lackey was 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 2016, a season in which he was paired with then-rookie catcher Willson Contreras often in the second half. Contreras was initially raw behind the dish but made great improvements in Lackey’s mind. The two will be a battery often this season.
“He came a long way,” Lackey said. “I threw to him the first time he got to catch here. From that point to the end of the season, totally different. He is a great kid. He works hard. He gets in there and watches a lot of film. He has really caught on to a lot of stuff fast.”
Lackey believes he has plenty left in the tank himself.
“I started later in the off season,” Lackey said of his approach. “You just have to get a little more rest.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.