By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — It was a formula the Cubs right-hander John Lackey has relied on before and isn’t afraid to acknowledge.

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How’d he get through the first two innings against the Reds on Wednesday night with zero stuff? It was come combination of smarts, guts and good defense that saw bases-loaded situations in back-to-back innings results in just one Cincinnati run.

“Just experience and been through some tough ones before,” Lackey said. “I definitely did not have a good feeling the first two innings. Obviously, I had no breaking ball. I kind of found that as we went along. Things got a little better.”

Lackey was looking to win his sixth straight decision Wednesday. He wouldn’t get that as the Cubs blew a five-run lead in an eventual 7-6 win, but he survived and did his job well. Lackey got better as the game went on, working six innings and allowing just one run on four hits and three walks while striking out six.

Lackey had a fastball but hardly anything else to get the Reds out with during the first three innings. He appeared to have trouble with his grip on the ball, as he constantly stepped off the mound and grabbed the rosin bag. Adjusting as the game went, Lackey disposed of the Reds in just a combined 38 pitches in his final three innings.

“You definitely have to figure out how to make a pitch,” Lackey said. “I was in a couple of tough spots. I was lucky enough to make a couple of good pitches, and (Kyle) Schwarber made a great throw from the outfield to home plate that really helped me out (for an out in the first inning).”

The 38-year-old Lackey is in the final season of a two-year, $32-million deal and must decide at season’s end if he wants to keep playing. If his health and stuff hold up the rest of the season, both he and the Cubs must ponder what direction they want to go.

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Would a one-year deal make sense for both sides? Only time will tell.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was in the dugout when Lackey began his career with the Angels in 2002, so he’s seen the transformation of Lackey from a power pitcher to more of a finesse style over his 16-year career.

“If he were to finish strong — which is what I anticipate — he might consider coming back,” Maddon said. “As far as coming back here, where else would you want to be? If you can still play major league baseball, why wouldn’t you want to be here? Right now, stuff wise, he is as good as he has been over the last two years. Everything about him, I am liking. He is absolutely trending in the northern direction. Part of this is being mindful of not getting into that 110-115 pitch count number. I can see him considering coming back.”

Lackey is 10-9 with a 4.67 ERA and 1.32 WHIP this season. With the exception of missing 2012 due to injury, he’s posted at least 10 wins every season since 2003.

As for next year, Lackey wasn’t interested in playing the guessing game.

“I have never said anything about retiring,” Lackey shot back at a question. “I am just playing baseball, taking one start at a time. We will see what happens. That will be a family decision at the end of the year.”

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Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.