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On Cubs' day off, John Lackey practices against minor leaguers

MESA, Ariz. -- Spring performances and results don't mean much, but it has to be a comforting thought that from all indications, the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation is rounding into form with the regular season two weeks away.

With the rest of the team off Monday, John Lackey took his turn in the rotation against minor leaguers from the Los Angeles Angels and threw six solid innings. It's not exactly a major league game in a major league stadium, but Lackey said he's progressing as scheduled.

"I think there were three decks on the bleachers," Lackey joked afterward about the practice field on which the game was played.

Lackey, who at 37 is preparing for his 14th year in the big leagues, struck out six and didn't allow much out of the infield in an efficient outing. He is older but understands how to pitch better than ever, as evidenced by a solid season in St. Louis last year, his first in the National League.

"When you're not scared to walk people ... it opens up some options," Lackey said Monday. "Trust my abilities to pitch to contact and make hitters make decisions."

Lackey has that "old school" feel to him. He is a bit edgy, short with his answers and lets his pitching do most of his talking. He even admitted as much after being asked if he has tried Jake Arrieta's infamous Pilates routine.

"I'm a little too old school for all that," he said. "I pick up a weight and push it around."

As for actually being old, Lackey called it a "nonissue," as with age comes wisdom. He simply knows how to navigate around a lineup, especially in the National League, where his numbers took off last season. He filled up the strike zone while giving up a high hit total (211), but it came in making every start over 218 innings. The bottom line is Lackey's 2.77 ERA in 2015 was the best is his career. Monday was a step to getting him ready for another long grind.

"Probably just ready to play some games that matter," he said.

Up next: The Cubs will be back in action on Tuesday, when they take on the Cincinnati Reds with Jason Hammel on the mound. Another round of cuts is coming as the regular season draws closer. Currently, the Cubs have 45 players on their spring roster and need to cut 20 by Opening Day.