CHICAGO -- A year ago in August, John Lackey was dealing with a tender right shoulder, which forced him to go on the disabled list. This season, the veteran right-hander is feeling strong in the second half and the timing is perfect for the Cubs.
Lackey struck out nine over seven innings but it wasn't enough as the Cubs lost, 2-0, to the Brewers in the first Friday night regular-season game in Wrigley Field history. Ryan Braun smacked a two-run homer in the first inning, and that's all Milwaukee needed to pull within four games of first-place Chicago in the National League Central.
The loss was just the second in Lackey's last 10 starts since the All-Star break. He has a 3.67 ERA in that stretch.
"Johnny Lackey was really good, their guy [Jimmy Nelson] was good," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Their 'pen was good, our 'pen was good. [Anthony Rizzo] hit a three-run homer that was kept in the ballpark and their guy [Ryan Braun] punctured the wind. I have nothing to complain about. I thought we came ready, they came ready. It was a really good game of baseball and they won."
Rizzo flied out to center to end the fifth inning, stranding runners at first and third. The Cubs totaled five hits in the loss, their 10th shutout defeat of the season.
Lackey did miss time in early July because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot but has looked strong since the All-Star break. The difference? He's healthy.
"I'm feeling pretty good physically, especially at this point in the season," Lackey said. "I'm feeling strong and a lot better than at this point last season. I was grinding through a shoulder situation at this time last year. It's nice to feel good and compete when you're feeling physically nice."
Braun's homer came off an 0-1 pitch in the first inning, and scored Eric Thames, who had doubled off the left-field wall.
"I felt really good tonight," said Lackey, who was making his first start since Sept. 1. "With the week off, I was almost a little too strong in the first inning. I threw a few too many fastballs and was up in the zone a little bit. My arm was feeling great, physically I felt great. Once I settled in and started using everything, things started rolling pretty good."
He gave up two more hits -- both singles -- over the next six innings. This marked the first time he had pitched seven innings in consecutive games this year.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.