By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — Cubs right-hander John Lackey was having one of his best seasons and was among the National League leaders in innings pitched last August when manager Joe Maddon twice within a week called for him to warm up in the bullpen for a potential relief performance.
Not long after, Lackey headed to the disabled list with a strained shoulder. While Lackey never did come on in relief, Maddon acknowledged the extra burden on Lackey likely contributed to him missing the ensuing three weeks.
Before the 38-year-old Lackey threw five solid innings Friday in an exhibition game against Team Japan — which is readying for a semifinal matchup in the World Baseball Classic on Monday — Maddon stood up and admitted his mistake from 2016 regarding Lackey’s use.
“I thought he was really throwing well last season,” Maddon said. “I take full responsibility for permitting him to warm up (that week). That was inappropriate. I should not have done that. You are trying to win a game. Of course, he is going to volunteer. I learned a lesson there. I will not let that happen again. Had he not gone through that moment, he would have gone through the rest of the season just like he had been going. That had a lot to do with it.”
Upon his return last September, Lackey was effective by limiting foes to two runs or fewer in four of his final five regular-season starts, but he never regained his top form and then registered a 4.85 ERA in three postseason starts. He was 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA in 29 regular-season starts.
Lackey took some of the blame for his injury as well, admitting he had overdone it himself even before that point, but he’s also happy to hear there will be no in-game bullpen sessions in 2017.
“It probably wasn’t a good idea twice in a week,” Lackey said. “It happened. What are you going to do? Until that point, I probably was having one of my better years ever. I will just go and do my thing. We will see what happens.”
In the final season of a two-year, $32-million deal, Lackey appreciates the chance to win one more championship. What he can’t say with certainty is whether 2017 will be his final season.
“A couple of years might be a stretch,” Lackey said. “We will see. I am just going to pitch this season. At this point, I am more likely to pitch next year (in 2018) than not pitch. We will see at the end of the season.”
Whatever the time frame, there won’t be a dog and pony show to commemorate Lackey once he decides to retire. As good friend and fellow rotation mate Jon Lester pointed out, there will be no trace of Lackey.
“That is a fact,” Lackey confirmed. “There will be no retirement tour. I promise you that. I will just not show up.”
The No. 4 starter in Chicago’s rotation, Lackey’s first start should come at Milwaukee on April 7.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.