Lester siz­zles; Cubs nearly fiz­zle

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY RUS­SELL DORSEY, STAFF RE­PORTER rdorsey@sun­times.com | @Russ_Dorsey1

CINCIN­NATI — If there was any worry that Jon Lester wouldn’t be ready once the sea­son started, the veteran left-han­der did his best Mon­day night to ease those fears.

Lester fol­lowed Tyler Chat­wood’s stel­lar out­ing Sun­day with one of his own by throw­ing five no-hit in­nings in his sea­son de­but against the Reds at Great Amer­i­can Ball Park — an 8-7 Cubs win af­ter they nearly squan­dered leads of 7-0 and 8-1. They took an 8-5 lead into the ninth, but Craig Kim­brel let two runs cross in the ninth with the bases loaded to make it 8-7, hitting Freddy Galvis with a pitch and then walk­ing Tyler Stephen­son. Jeremy Jef­fress then struck out Phillip Ervin and got Joey Votto to line out to cen­ter to end the game.

The Cubs let Lester take his time to build up while work­ing him­self back into game shape dur­ing sum­mer camp. Af­ter a solid out­ing in the fi­nal ex­hi­bi­tion game, he looked sharp again fac­ing the Reds, pitch­ing to con­tact and re­ly­ing on his de­fense. He in­duced four ground outs and six fly outs over 76 pitches, struck out one and walked one.

The start­ing ro­ta­tion has been an early bright spot for the Cubs, whose starters are 3-1 with 1.50 ERA, 23 strike­outs and just three walks through four games.

Con­tr­eras sees 2016-level Hen­dricks

Right-han­der Kyle Hen­dricks’ Open­ing Day per­for­mance Friday against the Brew­ers — a com­plete-game shutout — caught the at­ten­tion of not just Cubs fans but his catcher, Will­son Con­tr­eras.

Con­tr­eras sees some­thing fa­mil­iar in Hen­dricks that could be a har­bin­ger of good things to come for the Cubs this sea­son.

“I told Kyle . . . af­ter the game that I’m see­ing Kyle from 2016,” Con­tr­eras said. “The miles per hour came back. [On Friday], he was throw­ing 88, 89. I be­lieve that helps more than 84, 85. His changeup got much bet­ter from last year to this year. Kyle has the kind of changeup that helps him way more than the curve­ball or the sinker . . . . He’s the best I’ve seen in four years.”

That’s high praise for Hen­dricks, who had the best year of his ca­reer in 2016. He went 16-8 that sea­son with a ma­jor-league-lead­ing 2.16 ERA in 30 starts and started Game 7 of the World Se­ries.

Ross points to his phone, his fam­ily

Man­ager David Ross will al­ways re­mem­ber his first win as a man­ager Friday. So will his friends and fam­ily.

“I hadn’t got­ten that many text mes­sages since Game 7 of the World Se­ries [in 2016] — there’s no doubt about that,” Ross said. “I think I’m on up­wards of 150 now.”

In ad­di­tion to the calls and texts, Ross re­ceived a nice gift from starter Jon Lester, the game ball from short­stop Nico Ho­erner and Friday’s lineup card. But the best part was just ar­riv­ing home af­ter the game.

“It’s a lot of stress cou­pled with anx­ious­ness, and just a lot go­ing on lead­ing up to [Friday],” Ross said. “And then get­ting home and my mom, dad and all my kids be­ing there — I mean, that’s re­ward­ing.”

BRYAN WOOLSTON/AP

Jon Lester was in fine form, pitch­ing five hit­less in­nings against the Reds on Mon­day night.

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