By GEORGE HENRY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — John Lackey didn’t consider this a final test to see if he can hold his spot in the Chicago Cubs’ rotation.
Lackey has given no thought to pitching out the bullpen, not after a 15-year career as a starter.
“No, that ship has sailed,” Lackey said with a smile. “That ain’t going to happen. There’s two places for me to be: starting or at home. Except for the playoffs or in big games — we can compromise.”
Willson Contreras hit a three-run homer, Lackey earned his first win in a month and the Cubs won their fifth straight game with a 5-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.
Rain delayed the start of the game for 2 hours, 30 minutes.
The defending World Series champion Cubs moved three games over .500 for the first time since winning at Miami on June 6.
Chicago is 2½ games behind NL Central-leading Milwaukee.
The Cubs went up 4-1 in the third on Javier Baez’s 11th homer and Contreras’ 13th homer, a three-run shot . Chicago led 5-1 in the sixth on Ben Zobrist’s groundout.
Lackey (6-9) came off the disabled list to allow one run, five hits and two walks in five innings. He struck out one. The 38-year-old showed no ill effects from plantar fasciitis in his right foot and won for the first time since June 18 at Pittsburgh, a stretch of four starts.
The Braves have dropped two straight after sweeping three games from Arizona.
Atlanta began the night 18-11 since June 2, tied with Houston for the second-best record in the majors. But the Braves’ offense mostly sputtered against Lackey, getting only a solo homer from Nick Markakis in the second.
It was the 25th homer allowed by Lackey, most in the NL. Lackey has been speculated as possibly moving to the bullpen with the Cubs trading recently for Jose Quintana and getting Kyle Hendricks back from the disabled list in a few days.
Lackey began the season with a career 3.88 ERA. It’s 5.04 this year, but he hopes that Tuesday’s outing — preceded by Jon Lester, Quintana and Jake Arrieta — proves that the rotation is still reliable after a difficult first half of the season.
“We have guys that have done it before, guys who take pride in what they do and want to do better than we did in the first half, for sure,” Lackey said.
Sean Newcomb (1-5) lost his third straight start, allowing five runs, eight hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. The left-hander struck out five.
“Tonight I didn’t throw a lot of strikes in spots I need to,” Newcomb said. “I was trying to do a little too much with my off-speed, kind of trying to not living pitch by pitch, thinking too far ahead. I just have to attack a pitch at a time, not worry about what’s about to happen.”
SOARING AND SLIDING
Contreras has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games and has a .380 average with four homers over that stretch. … Cubs RF Jason Heyward went 2 for 4 and is hitting .409 over his last seven games. … Newcomb posted a 1.48 ERA over his first four career starts, but the rookie has a 12.79 ERA over his last three. .. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Hector Rondon pitched the last four innings as Chicago’s bullpen lowered its ERA four points to 3.30, second-best in the majors. … Despite his homer, Markakis is hitting .205 since June 22.
In their first season at SunTrust Park, the Braves have hosted 11 weather delays in 47 home games.
Cubs: Hendricks, on the disabled list with tendinitis in his right hand, told reporters that he’s ready to return to the rotation after throwing five perfect innings in a rehab start Monday at Double-A Tennessee. Manager Joe Maddon said Hendricks will stay with the team and make his next start early next week, though Maddon has yet to decide what game.
Braves: Manager Brian Snitker said RHP Arodys Vizcaino will come off the disabled list Wednesday. Vizcaino, sidelined for two weeks with a strained right index finger, is 3-2 with a 3.28 ERA this year and has 21 saves in 30 career chances.
Cubs: LHP Mike Montgomery (1-6) will make his eighth start and face Atlanta for the first time in his career. He is 1-3 with a 5.77 ERA as a starter.
Braves: RHP R.A. Dickey (6-5) will make his 19th start and face the Cubs for the third time. He is 0-1 with a 7.27 ERA in two career starts against Chicago.