To Maddon, Lackey improving with age

Cubs newcomer pitches deeper than expected in Cactus League debut

To Maddon, Lackey improving with age

MESA, Ariz. -- John Lackey has talked to Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and told the young Cubs how he approached them as an opposing pitcher. But Lackey wasn't willing to share his tips.

"I don't want to throw it out there -- they're on my team now," Lackey said. "I want those guys to hit a bunch of homers."

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On Friday, Rizzo and Bryant didn't go deep in Chicago's 7-4 win over the Reds, but Miguel Montero and Dan Vogelbach did to back Lackey in his Cubs debut. The right-hander, who signed a two-year contract with the Cubs this offseason, scattered five hits and allowed three runs over three innings. He was scheduled to throw two innings, but because his pitch count was low, Lackey got an extra inning of work.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon and Lackey, 37, were together on the Angels when the right-hander was still learning how to pitch. Lackey joked that back then, he was a two-pitch pitcher.

"He might have thrown a little bit harder then," Maddon said about Lackey. "When he was young, he had a natural cutter that beat up righties on the inside edge, and it used to get on lefties.

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"I think he's actually in better shape right now. The one thing also is the delivery is better, the repetition of his arm. I went up to him on the first day here and said, 'God, Johnny, I've been watching you the last couple years, and you're getting better.'"

Maddon and his Rays had faced Lackey when the right-hander pitched for the Red Sox, and the manager remembers tough battles.

"He's getting better," Maddon said. "It starts with his delivery, and the next component is that he knows what he's doing out there. He'll never give in to a hitter. That has not changed."

As he's gotten older, Lackey has come to realize that he needs to take care of himself.

"Early on, I was young and just threw hard," Lackey said.

Is his delivery better?

"I feel it's pretty consistent," Lackey said. "It gives me a chance to throw a lot of strikes because I kind of know where the ball's coming out pretty consistently most of the time. Obviously, you can have some days when you don't. For the most part, I feel pretty good about it."

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.