Tuesday, Paul Sullivan penned (wait, do we still say “penned?” How about “typed?”) a Tribune column in which he suggested that John Lackey could be “odd man out” when Kyle Hendricks returns from the disabled list:
Lackey comes off the DL Tuesday in Atlanta to make his first second half start. If the Cubs make it into the division series, he would appear to be the odd man out, just as Jason Hammel was last year.
But Maddon said they haven't considered moving Lackey to the bullpen yet, despite the home runs, the foot injury and the addition of Quintana.
It would seem to me that when Lackey returns, Eddie Butler will head back to Triple-A Iowa, and when Hendricks is back, Mike Montgomery goes to the bullpen (where he’s been much better anyway), leaving a rotation of Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Hendricks and Lackey.
Yes, Lackey had a bad first half, with a ton of home runs allowed, and perhaps much of that was due to the injury that he has now rested for two weeks. His peripherals, though, aren’t bad: 2.7 walks per nine innings and 7.8 strikeouts, which aren’t too far off last year’s numbers (2.5 and 8.6, respectively).
Lackey’s high ERA is in large part due to first-inning issues. He has a 6.35 ERA in the first inning (13 earned runs and five home runs). From the second inning on, Lackey has allowed 44 earned runs in 81⅔ innings. That isn’t great, but it’s certainly all right for a fifth starter, which is essentially what Lackey is at age 38.
He also eats up innings, something the Cubs really need from their starters. He’s gone at least six innings in 11 of his 17 starts and despite being out for two weeks, he’s still third on the staff in innings, behind Lester and Arrieta.
Finally, Lackey has made exactly one regular-season relief appearance in his 15-year career, out of 434 total games. It happened June 27, 2004, and though I don’t know the exact circumstances, it appears the Angels needed one of their starters to eat up innings after Bartolo Colon (of all people!) got pounded early.
I believe Lackey will be fine; he’s no longer a top starting pitcher, but assuming this staff lives up to what it can do, he doesn’t need to be.
The bigger question is what the Cubs do with Brett Anderson a week from now when his rehab assignment time is up. There really isn’t room for him on this staff anymore; I suspect they just might eat the rest of his contract and release him.