Lester sizzles; Cubs nearly fizzle
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.”
Jon Lester was in fine form, pitching five hitless innings against the Reds on Monday night.