Chicago Cubs’ ace Jon Lester seems to be getting along without long-time battery partner David Ross – thanks to Willson Contreras.
In his final spring outing against the Cleveland Indians, Lester and new batterymate Willson Contreras locked in and found some consistency. The veteran lefty at times lacked control, but was able to work through it with the young catcher, even though he wasn’t able to establish his cutter on Monday.
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Hard work pays off
It’s no secret that Contreras and Lester have had their struggles together in the past. However, Cubs fans should breathe a sigh of relief after this most recent outing.
On Monday, through six innings, Lester threw 84 pitches, giving up five hits and four runs while striking out five. At one point, he set down nine straight Indians.
Lester really only had one underwhelming inning of this start, though he may argue otherwise.
In the second inning, he allowed newly-acquired Edwin Encarnacion doubled to shallow left, followed by a single by Brandon Guyer, advancing Encarnacion to third base. Three consecutive singles by former Cub Austin Jackson, Yandy Diaz and Roberto Perez opened the Tribe’s lead at 2-0. Abraham Almonte brought in Jackson on a fielder’s choice to Javy Baez at second, stretching their lead to 3-0.
After giving up the three runs, Lester began his put-out streak.
On a couple of occasions, there were pitches that left Contreras and Lester in a staring contest. Most notably, in the bottom of the fifth against Almonte. Lester threw three straight curveballs to open the at-bat. After the second, he seemed to be telling Contreras “I told you I should have thrown this now.” Almonte ended up hitting a home run over Ian Happ‘s head in left on a low-inside change-up that stayed too high.
Apparently, there are still some kinks to work out.
It’s imperative that Lester and Contreras continue to this rhythm throughout the regular season, and into the playoffs. Against Cleveland, the tandem accounted for all three runs the Cubs scored.
Contreras is the best offensive option at catcher, though Miguel Montero gives Chicago a notable defensive advantage behind the plate. I suspect the Cubs will lean on Montero to pass down many of his trade secrets to the young catcher this season in order to make him into an everyday workhorse.
Monday, Contreras put the Cubs on the board in the 4th inning with a solo home run on a middle-third change-up. He took a fastball out to right field in the sixth as well.
Lester also helped his own cause on a 0-2 fastball which he drove up the middle in the bottom of the sixth to score Albert Almora Jr. from second.
Opening Day is just a week away. Cubs fans will get to see the defending World Series Champions play the rival St. Louis Cardinals on ESPN. Lester and Contreras seem poised to lead the Cubs pitching staff towards another successful year.