Lester, Lackey getting to reconnect with Cubs

Veteran pitchers vying for hits, looking to help Chicago win World Series

Lester, Lackey getting to reconnect with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Lester had actively recruited his former Red Sox teammate John Lackey to sign with the Cubs, and once the right-hander did, the competition was on. The two pitchers aren't battling each other to see who finishes with the most wins, but rather who will have the most hits.

"Absolutely," Lester said on Sunday when asked if there was a friendly wager between the two.

"One hundred percent," Lackey said. "We can't tell you the numbers on that, but there's definitely some action."

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"That was the first thing we discussed," Lester said.

Must C: Lester's first hit

This friendly battle has nothing to do with the fact that Lester got his first Major League hit off Lackey on July 6. Lester ended an 0-for-66 career hitless streak with an infield single off Lackey, who was pitching for the Cardinals. But Lackey and St. Louis won the game.

"I told you guys [the hit] didn't matter -- he got the win," Lester said.

"I went over to his house and he cooked me dinner, so it was great," Lackey said.

The two got to know each other when they were teammates in 2010-13 with the Red Sox. Last season, Lester was the new kid in Cubs camp after signing a six-year, $155 million contract. This offseason, Lackey signed a two-year, $32 million deal to come to Chicago. Now, Lester is helping Lackey remember the names of the clubhouse staff and helping him find the food room.

Outlook: Lester, SP, CHC

"I think Jon Lester likes to have people around him that he's familiar with," manager Joe Maddon said on Sunday. "I think Lackey is the perfect foil, in a sense. Lack's going to tell Jon Lester exactly what he thinks all the time and I think it's good that they'll have this honest and open conversation. I've known Lackey for a long time and Johnny is straight up and straightforward. He likes to giggle and have fun, but when it comes down to his craft, he gets very serious."

The two complement each other.

"At the same point, I think Jon Lester is good for John Lackey," Maddon said. "The fact they're kind of vibrating on the same level right now professionally and they can bounce things off one another as peers, and look each other in the eye [is good]. I think it's healthy all the way around.

"When we signed Lackey in the offseason, I thought he was one of the top free-agent signs of the winter and specifically for us and what we're doing."

What Lackey brings is not only experience, but an edginess that Maddon likes. The two were together in Anaheim, and Maddon said the right-hander has "mellowed" since that time. Mellow? Lackey? Opposing hitters don't think so.

Outlook: Lackey, SP, CHC

"Not every five days, probably not," Lackey said of the "M" word. "Four out of five days, I'm pretty laid back and having a good time. When you only get 30-something times to help your team, I take it pretty dang serious and go get after it."

Does he need that edge?

"I think it's helped me, for sure," Lackey said. "It's not going anywhere. It's just there. It's just what it is."

"I'm glad John Lackey is on our team because I hated facing him," new teammate Kris Bryant said. "He's a bulldog on the mound and he gives you that look and you know he's ready to go. It's good to have guys like that on your team."

It's a good thing to have that intimidation factor.

"I don't think I want a hitter to want to face me," Lackey said. "I guess they'd beat me up. Obviously, I compete on the field and I get after it and I know how that can be perceived sometimes. I think people find out I'm a lot different than I am, which is fine. In between the lines, I don't care what the other team thinks about me. I'm there to win."

The Cubs saw enough of Lackey last season. He went 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA with the Cardinals, and he was 2-0 with a 1.25 ERA in three starts against the Cubs, and that doesn't include his two postseason starts. Lackey beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, but Chicago won a rematch in Game 4, 6-4.

Lester, who took the loss in Game 1 of the NLDS, posted an 11-12 record and 3.34 ERA in 32 regular-season starts in his first year with the Cubs. The lefty was critical of his performance.

"That's just who I am -- I'm critical of myself and I'm harder on myself than anybody else can be," Lester said.

Lackey, who was sitting next to Lester during Sunday's media session, interrupted.

"I don't know about that," Lackey said.

Dempster roasts Lester, Lackey

"Yeah, I think so," Lester said. "I always want to pitch another inning, always want to help your team out. Like [Lackey] said, you only get 30 [starts], so you want to go as deep as you can."

Will it help Lester to have Lackey on the same team again?

"I think when you know people as well as we know each other, you can definitely talk to each other a little differently than you talk to anyone else," Lester said. "There's no sugarcoating around us. You probably don't want to be in on a lot of converastions we have. It's nice having guys who don't suger coat things and you know what exactly they're going to bring and what exactly they're going to do for you to make you better."

Their wives are good friends, and the two families do a lot together. Now, they're teammates again. They both have World Series rings from 2013 in Boston. That Red Sox team had more veterans than the current Cubs do.

So, is it World Series or bust?

"If you come into spring and don't have that as your goal, then why play the season?" Lester said. "I would imagine there's 29 other teams with the same goal. We're not here to just play 162 and go home. We want to do the whole thing and bring a championship back to Chicago, and have fun doing it."

Lackey is aware it's been a long time since the Cubs last won.

"The way you win championships hasn't changed," Lackey said. "We've both won a couple and hopefully we can bring some of those things here, and we can put it all together with some of the young great talent on this team and get it done."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.