The bat flew out of Josh Donaldson’s hands, landing on the grass several feet from the batter’s box. The Twins third baseman had tried to turn on a cutter that Cubs pitcher Jon Lester had placed on the edge of the plate.
Donaldson retrieved the bat and made the long trip back to the dugout.
Lester made his final start of summer camp in the Cubs’ 4-3 win Wednesday against the Twins. In 4.1 innings he allowed just one hit. But Cubs manager David Ross didn’t seem to need any convincing that Lester would be ready for regular season.
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“Jon’s our fourth starter,” Ross said before the game. “As long as everything goes smooth tonight and he’s healthy he’ll be our fourth starter.”
Smoothly it went.
Lester had the advantage of a big-bopping lineup behind him. Although Kris Bryant was scratched from the starting lineup due to back tightness, Anthony Rizzo returned from the same injury.
“You can never replace guys like that,” Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks said of Bryant and Rizzo, “one of a kind players and what they bring. Not only on the field but off as teammates and the energy and just the camaraderie of being part of this group. So yeah, you never replace, but the depth and the next-man-up mentality that we have here is as good as it could be.”
In the case Bryant, the next man up for the job of leadoff hitter was Ian Happ, who singled in his first at-bat.
Then up came Rizzo, who hadn’t yet played in an exhibition game this summer. He drove a two-run home run half way up the right field stands.
Willson Contreras added cushion to the Cubs lead with solo homers in the first and third innings.
But so far this summer, the Cubs middle-inning relievers haven’t proven that they can consistently hold a lead. Lester had little room for error. And he delivered.
Lester soared through the first two innings, facing just one batter over the minimum.
In the third, Lester hit Ehire Adrianza with a pitch and walked Mitch Garver back to back. He hit his mitt in frustration as a cutter got away from him for ball four. But then Donaldson was up, and Lester struck him out with style. Lester got Nelson Cruz to fly out to end the inning.
The only run credited to Lester came out of a walking Max Kepler in the fifth inning. After Lester reached his pitch limit, Kepler made his way around the bases with Cubs reliever Dillon Maples on the mound. Kepler scored on a passed ball.
“I’ve got a ton of confidence in Jon,” Ross said. “Continue on that veteran plan, and some of these guys have to really pace themselves and really build toward season.”
The regular season is just days away, and everything about Wednesday’s start suggests Lester will be ready.
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How Jon Lester can give Cubs a boost at the back end of their rotation originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago