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Lester looking to bounce back from outing vs. A's

Strop expects to be set for Opening Day; Cubs seeking relief help
@MLBastian
March 13, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Lester could not corral his cutter in the bullpen and it abandoned him on the mound during Wednesday's start against the A's. The veteran lefty struggled to command his four-seamer and the offspeed offerings were a mess as well. Chalk it up as one of those

MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Lester could not corral his cutter in the bullpen and it abandoned him on the mound during Wednesday's start against the A's. The veteran lefty struggled to command his four-seamer and the offspeed offerings were a mess as well.

Chalk it up as one of those spring days you can crumple up and toss in the waste bin.

"The good thing is this game doesn't really matter," Lester said after the Cubs' 12-11 loss. "The bad thing is obviously I didn't like the way I pitched and the way the ball was coming out. We'll get back to the drawing board on Friday for a bullpen."

Lester's fourth Cactus League start included seven runs allowed on seven hits, including one home run, in 2 2/3 innings. The lefty struck out three, walked two and exited during a six-run third inning for the A's. The goal was to get Lester at least four innings, so the lefty said his next game action will be important in the build-up for Opening Day.

As the schedule falls right now, Lester's next day to pitch would fall on Monday, meaning he would get his work in during a simulated game. That controlled environment will enable the southpaw to focus on specific tasks, while getting his pitch count and innings up to the necessary benchmarks.

"I need to get those innings. I need to get up and down five or six or seven times, hopefully," Lester said. "We'll be able to do that, which will be good."

Right now, the Cubs have only revealed that Lester will start on March 28 for Opening Day against the Rangers. With two off-days within the first six days, though, manager Joe Maddon plans on waiting to reveal the specifics of the rotation order for the next handful of games. Part of the decision will revolve around whether Lester wants to return on five days of rest (April 3 at Braves) or six days of rest (April 4 at Braves).

"There's some nuance in there -- there is," Maddon said. "I would say as we get closer to the actual event, I think that's when you're going to hear it all. Just being honest."

Strop still throwing

Pedro Strop's right hamstring issue will keep him off the mound for the time being, but the Cubs late-inning reliever is confident that he can be ready in time for Opening Day.

"No panic," Strop said as he entered the Cubs' complex on Wednesday.

Maddon reiterated that Strop, who tweaked the hamstring during Saturday's game against the Angels, can continue his throwing program this week. With roughly two weeks left in Spring Training, the manager also expressed confidence in Strop's ability to be ready for the start of the season.

"The trainers are very optimistic," Maddon said. "He's still able to throw at a great distance. Whenever you're able to keep your arm working, that matters a lot."

Cubs looking for relief?

With Strop slowed down, and both Brandon Morrow (right elbow) and Xavier Cedeno (left wrist) expected to begin the season on the injured list, it's fair to wonder if the Cubs are exploring bullpen help from outside the organization. Maddon said the team has indeed had internal discussions about some options that exist via trade or waivers.

"Everything's in play," Maddon said. "You're trying to sift and sort through everything right now and you want to stay with the plan that you established over the winter time. ... We had a discussion. Some names have popped up, so there's still some opportunity out there, too."

Part of the winter approach was not pursuing any big-ticket free agents due to budget restrictions. Even so, Maddon was asked if free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel's name has come up in the team's internal talks.

"We really didn't discuss that," Maddon said. "But, I can't tell you that it's out of the question."

Descalso sidelined

Veteran utility man Daniel Descalso jammed his left (non-throwing) shoulder during Saturday's game against the Angels and is currently shut down from hitting. While the injury is not believed to be serious, there is no current timetable for Descalso's return to games.

"We're just holding him back a little bit," Maddon said. "But, he's fine."

Up next

Right-hander Yu Darvish is scheduled to start for the Cubs on Thursday, when Chicago hosts the Rangers in a 3:05 p.m. CT Cactus League tilt at Sloan Park. Darvish has only logged 3 1/3 innings in two official spring starts, but the righty worked four innings in a simulated game on Friday. Texas will give the start to righty Adrian Sampson.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.