By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Cubs right-hander John Lackey has battled injuries and Father Time with the best of them.
On Wednesday afternoon, he gutted out a quality start, going six innings and allowing three runs on six hits while walking none and striking out three. He took a no-decision, helping bide time for the Cubs to rally for a 7-3 win against the Rays at Wrigley Field in which they scored all of their runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Chicago improved to 42-42 with the win ahead of a makeup game against NL Central-leading Milwaukee on Thursday.
In at least his past couple starts, Lackey has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, which he refuses to make a big deal of in a season in which he’s struggled for long stretches.
“In four days, I have to pitch again, so I think I will be all right,” Lackey said. “I am 38 years old, so I am bothered by a lot of things.”
Lackey’s fastball used to sit in the 92-93 mph range in recent seasons but has dipped at times now to around 90 mph. The velocity reduction hasn’t been the concern so much as his fastball having less movement nowadays as his velocity has decreased.
Like many veterans, Lackey seems to rely on more guile and utilize it to his advantage as the game progresses.
“A lot of what he does has to do with his competitive nature,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He got it up to 92-93 mph on occasion. The game in progress, early he might have a tough start, but he is normally still in the fifth, sixth and seventh inning. Actually, his foot has been bothering him, so I do not know how that has been impactful to him. He does, for me, normally get better.”
The damage done to Lackey on Wednesday came in the form of solo homers by the Rays in the firth, third and sixth innings. The Cubs offense didn’t come through until he left the game, with his pinch-hitter, Jon Jay, drilling a three-run homer off Rays reliever Erasmo Ramirez to tie the game at 3-3 in the sixth inning.
He also had the knowledge he kept his club in the game for six solid frames.
“You know he is always going to go out there and leave it on the field,” Jay said of Lackey, whom he also played with in St. Louis in 2014 and 2015.
“If you look at the back of Lackey’s baseball card, it’s pretty impressive. He has pitched in 10 postseasons and on three World Series championship teams. When you sit down and see what he has done, it is remarkable. He gives you everything he has each time he pitches. That is all you want from your teammates. He does it every time.”
After Jay’s big blast in the sixth inning, the Cubs went up 5-3 in the seventh inning on Ian Happ’s two-run single past a drawn-in Rays infield.
Jay is hitting .305 with a .382 on-base percentage as a part-time player this season.
“I show up every day ready to play,” Jay said. “Whether it is coming off of the bench or starting, it doesn’t matter. I work hard to be ready. When my name is called upon, I am hopefully going to be able to help out the team.”
Lackey tipped his hat to Jay and in the process also had advice for Maddon.
“He has done everything that we needed him to do this year,” Lackey said of Jay. “I honestly can’t believe he doesn’t play more.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.