CHICAGO -- Jonathan Lester assured everyone he would be fine after exiting his previous start with back spasms. Taking the mound Saturday as scheduled, the veteran left-hander proved he was ready, completing seven scoreless innings in the Cubs' 1-0 win over the Reds at Wrigley Field.
With the Cubs on Day 26 in a stretch of 30 straight days with scheduled games, Lester's lengthy start was much needed to aid their fatigued offense and depleted bullpen. The win, coupled with the Brewers' 3-1 loss to the Pirates, has Chicago's NL Central lead back up to 2 1/2 games.
"The starters right now are really important to us," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "In the beginning of the year, the bullpen picked them up. Right now, it's their turn to pick up the bullpen. The more innings they can pile up, that makes it somewhat easier to piece the latter part of the innings together."
Lester and Reds starter Cody Reed were locked in a pitchers' duel through the first five innings -- they had each allowed just two hits in that span, with three of those combined four hits remaining in the infield. Reed was removed for a pinch-hitter to begin the sixth after recording a career-high 10 strikeouts in the contest.
Meanwhile, Lester settled in nicely after a 25-pitch first inning; he retired all but one of the 13 batters he faced over the next four innings.
"You have to pitch better than good pitching to win," Maddon said. "Their guy was really good, too. Jonny typically gets better when he smells it. He made some really big pitches when he had to."
With Reed out of the game, the Cubs got to work in the sixth. Javier Baez led off with an infield single, then scored on a two-out single from Willson Contreras, his second hit of the game.
"I think he was fighting the ball off because he couldn't see the ball," Reds manager Jim Riggleman said of Contreras' go-ahead single. "It just looked, like everybody else, he had trouble seeing the ball. That was kind of an emergency swing a little bit."
With both closer Brandon Morrow and his replacement, Pedro Strop, out with injuries, the Cubs turned to Justin Wilson to pitch the eighth. Jesse Chavez started the ninth, but he was removed after allowing a one-out single to Jose Peraza. Left-hander Randy Rosario entered to retire Joey Votto before righty Steve Cishek -- a former closer -- got Eugenio Suarez to ground out and end the game.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Speedster Billy Hamilton walked with one out in the sixth and waited one pitch before stealing second easily. Contreras' throw skipped past Baez covering the bag, and if not for a diving snag from Addison Russell, who was backing up the throw, the ball would've rolled farther into center field and Hamilton likely would've advanced to third.
"That was the game-changer right there," Lester said. "I think that's a play that gets overlooked. If that ball goes to center field, he's on third base with one out."
Instead, Hamilton stayed put at second -- at least for that play. During the same at-bat, Hamilton broke for third and was originally called safe before a brief replay review overturned the call. Lester then struck out Peraza to end the inning.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
With two outs in the third, Hamilton roped a line drive to center field, which Albert Almora Jr. reeled in with a smooth diving snag. If the ball got past Almora, Hamilton most likely would've been on third base with a triple.
"If Al pulls up, it's a triple anyway [because Hamilton will steal two bases]. If Al makes the play, it's an out. If it gets by him, it's a triple anyway, possibly a home run," Lester said. "You've gotta play it full bore, and Al did that and made one hell of a play."
HE SAID IT
"We'll take that opposite-field, crappy-looking, whatever-looking, parachute-looking thing that gets in that outfield that drives in that run. I'll take it any day of the week." -- Maddon, on Contreras' go-ahead single
Jose Quintana (13-9, 3.97 ERA) will close the Cubs' series against the Reds on Sunday, facing Luis Castillo (9-12, 4.66 ERA). Quintana is 2-1 this season against the Reds, including a game on May 19 in which he gave up one hit over seven scoreless innings. One more win would be a career high for Quintana, who won 13 games in 2016 with the White Sox. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT from Wrigley Field.