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Lackey validates spot in revitalized rotation

Activated from DL earlier Tuesday, Cubs righty tosses 5 solid innings for first win in a month
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- As the Cubs are evaluating how to move forward with a revamped starting rotation, John Lackey knew he had to prove his value as a key contributor to the staff.

Lackey pitched with confidence in his return from plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He also left a good impression as he went five innings, allowing just one run in the Cubs' 5-1 victory against the Braves on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park. It was his first start since July 5, and his first win since June 18.

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ATLANTA -- As the Cubs are evaluating how to move forward with a revamped starting rotation, John Lackey knew he had to prove his value as a key contributor to the staff.

Lackey pitched with confidence in his return from plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He also left a good impression as he went five innings, allowing just one run in the Cubs' 5-1 victory against the Braves on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park. It was his first start since July 5, and his first win since June 18.

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"Really, I had one bad start in my last five as I got beat up pretty good in Washington," Lackey said. "I felt like I made some adjustments in the last few weeks, and hopefully that can translate to the rest of the season."

Lackey's outing on Tuesday was a lot different than his last two starts, during which he gave up a combined 11 runs in 11 1/3 innings. He commanded the strike zone as he mixed his cutter with his four-seam fastball. According to Statcast™, his cutter averaged 82.7 mph, and he got five called strikes with the pitch.

"He was able to locate his fastball and slider pretty well, and we were aggressive with it and things worked out," Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was pleased with Lackey's grit against the Braves, especially after he had to wait out a 2 1/2-hour rain delay before the game started. He felt that his determination helped will the Cubs to a victory.

"I saw the [pitching] gun readings, and they were really good," Maddon said. "I thought he threw some very good sliders as it was very hot and kept getting hotter through the night."

With the win, Lackey improved to 6-9 on the season as the Cubs moved 2 1/2 games back of the first-place Brewers in the National League Central race after winning their fifth straight game after the All-Star break.

The rotation, which now includes the newly acquired Jose Quintana, is showing signs of clicking at the same time, and it is still to receive a boost when Kyle Hendricks is expected to return from inflammation in his right hand. After tossing five hitless innings in his second rehab start Monday, Hendricks is slated to throw at least one more bullpen session and could return to the rotation next week.

Lackey, meanwhile, figures to continue competing for his job in the starting five, but Maddon has said that he likes having him on the mound every fifth day because he has the fortitude to battle through adversity.

"I like having him out there for those reasons," Maddon said. "The stuff is still really good, but the heart is even bigger, and that is a benefit to us."

Jaylon Thompson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Atlanta.

Chicago Cubs, John Lackey