Lackey is a no-nonsense pitcher on the mound, but sometimes that can come back to bite him. That's exactly what happened on Saturday, when he gave up six runs to the Cincinnati Reds in the Cubs' 13-5 loss.
“Gave up some two-strike hits on some balls away that I’d like to have back for sure,” he said after the game. “Sometimes you can almost throw too many strikes. Need to make people a little more uncomfortable.”
Throwing too many strikes isn’t something you hear often from a major league pitcher -- or any pitcher, for that matter -- but it makes some sense coming from Lackey. He gave up 211 hits last season, including a league-high 156 singles, but his ERA was just 2.77 with only 53 walks to go with those hits. Without watching a game you can imagine the type of season that he had: Minor damage here and there, but more often than not he made the right pitch at the right time.
“I think I gave up four two-strike hits,” Lackey said of his outing on Saturday. “There’s ways of rectifying that ... The two-strike hits, I have to take care of them in a different way.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lackey threw fastballs 55 percent of the time with two strikes against the Reds. In his masterpiece against the St. Louis Cardinals five days earlier, he threw two-strike fastballs just 46 percent of the time. That difference can be the difference between a good or bad outing for him.
The part that is hard to figure is that Lackey should know this. In his first start as a Cub against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he was getting hit hard before starting to “pitch” instead of just throwing. He settled down.
He took that philosophy from the first pitch against the Cardinals and threw a gem. Maybe he got away with a strictly fastball diet last season, as he’s given up five or more earned runs in two of his four starts this season. That happened two times in 33 starts last year. Lackey needs to adjust if his fastballs are getting hit hard.
“Was looking good,” Joe Maddon said. “Went away very quickly ... There were no indicators.”
There was nothing to tip off Maddon that Lackey was going to blow up in the sixth inning. He had given up some hits but had an easy fifth inning before things quickly changed over the course of the first seven pitches in the sixth. A three-run home run by Eugenio Suarez preceded Lackey's first walk of the game a few batters later, which ended his night.
“I had good stuff for the most part,” Lackey said. “Trust me, as long as I’m healthy it’s all going to be there in the end.”
Fans would undoubtedly like to know which Lackey will be there in the end. The one with a 6.87 ERA in three of his four starts, or the guy who threw a shutout over seven innings just five days earlier? If mixing it up is all he needs to do, then there’s no reason not to expect a better performance next outing.
“There can be such thing as too many strikes sometimes,” Lackey reiterated.