Lester helping Lackey feel at home with Chicago Cubs

  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey smiles during spring baseball practice in Mesa, Ariz.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey smiles during spring baseball practice in Mesa, Ariz.

Updated 2/21/2016 7:16 PM

MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Lester and John Lackey have been buddies for a long time. So it was only fitting Sunday that they conducted a joint news conference on the second day of workouts for Chicago Cubs pitchers and catchers.

Lester joined the Cubs last winter as their big free-agent signing. Lackey came this season. The fact that they know each other may be helping Lackey adjust quickly to his new surroundings.


"It's been great, yeah," said Lackey, a 37-year-old right-hander. "It's been really easy to fit in. Joe (manager Maddon) runs a pretty laid-back camp. I've been having a lot of fun. It's been cool."

Lester, a 32-year-old lefty, admitted it took him some time to get adjusted last spring. On top of that, he was slowed by shoulder fatigue in spring training.

He says this year's feeling is different.

"I think, obviously, a lot easier," he said. "You're not the new guy and trying to find your way around Arizona, the clubhouse and all that stuff. Now you're just a teammate and trying to get ready for spring.

"It's been good. It's been, obviously, a lot easier this year on everybody. You see it from top to bottom, I feel that guys are a lot more relaxed and having fun."

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Lester wound up going 11-12 with a 3.34 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 205 innings in 2015, the first season of a six-year, $155 million contract. He was critical of himself many times last year.

"There's always ways to get better," he said. "There are a lot of different things within the game: managing the game a little bit differently.

"Last year was my first year in the National League, so a little bit different, learning you don't have to continually attack hitters all the time. You have that ninth spot, or eighth spot, depending on where the pitcher hits. You have those spots in the lineup where you can dictate more than in the American League."

Lackey, who came to the Cubs from the St. Louis Cardinals, beat Lester 4-0 in Game 1 of last year's division series, eventually won by the Cubs.


Remembering Tony Phillips:

Joe Maddon went back a long way with former major leaguer Tony Phillips, who died last week at 56. Maddon remembered him fondly.

"Anthony, and he would call me Joseph, I got to know him with the Angels," Maddon said. "I'll tell you something about Anthony. He was an outfielder with the Angels. He played some infield, but he was primarily in the outfield one year, and I was in charge of the outfielders. Almost every day, I would go out in the outfield and work drills with him.

"At the end of the year, he had a pretty good year in the outfield. In December, I'm at my house here in Mesa, and I'm, putting up Christmas lights. We didn't have cellphones, so I had to bring my hand-held phone out, and I had it on the ledge with me, and it rings.

"It's Anthony. He just wanted to call me and tell me thank you for working with him on the outfield and the fact that it made him feel comfortable on a daily basis. I'd never had a player do that."

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