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In 'a better place,' Lester happy with debut

@MLBastian
February 25, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- At some point this season, if things go as they should, Willson Contreras will become the catcher who has caught the most innings of Jon Lester's long, storied career. For now, that title still belongs to David Ross. Ross spent years as Lester's personal catcher, and so

MESA, Ariz. -- At some point this season, if things go as they should, Willson Contreras will become the catcher who has caught the most innings of Jon Lester's long, storied career. For now, that title still belongs to David Ross.

Ross spent years as Lester's personal catcher, and so the Cubs' manager joked Tuesday morning -- following a bout with the flu -- that it was only fitting that he returned for the pitcher's Cactus League debut. And, go figure, Ross' first pitching change in the Cubs' 12-6 loss to the Rockies had the manager heading to the Sloan Park hill to take ball from Lester's hand.

"Sounds about right, right?" Lester asked with a smirk after Tuesday's game against the Rockies.

The 36-year-old Lester was concentrating on establishing his fastball against Colorado in what amounted to a 31-pitch appearance -- one inning plus three batters. The veteran left-hander issued two walks, allowed three hits (two doubles) and was charged with five runs (three earned).

With one spring outing in the books, Lester was focused more on how he felt, rather than anything that wound up in the box score.

"I felt pretty strong today," Lester said. "I feel like I'm in a better place right now physically than I have been since, let's say, last year. Hopefully, I'll continue to work on that angle and get some better results next time."

Lester has said multiple times -- late last season and earlier this spring -- that one goal for the 2020 season is to avoid getting caught up in the idea that he has to completely change his approach due to his age.

"It's just more of a feeling than it is actual pitches, you know?" Lester explained. "I think it's when you go in there and you're already thinking about, 'OK, I've got to throw a sinker down and away to this guy first pitch.' And, 'If I get a strike,' or, 'If I do this, then I have to do this.' You're kind of already defeated.

"I think it's more of just a mindset of being aggressive early. Obviously, you're trying to stay out of the middle of the plate regardless, but maybe just attack halves a little bit more early on. Try to get that strike one early on, show them that we're on the plate and then I can expand."

Happ building off strong finish
Following a stint back with Triple-A Iowa last season, outfielder Ian Happ finished the 2019 campaign with an offensive flurry for the Cubs. He hit at a .311 clip (1.021 OPS) in September and had a 1.719 OPS with five homers and a dozen RBIs in his final eight games.

"To be able to take that confidence into the offseason," Happ said, "and really lean on that and understand that I had the ability to really impact games late in the season, that was cool. The approach that I had, the confidence that I had, knowing that I handled a lot of different pitches late in the year, the year as a whole was really successful."

Happ, who is trying to lock down a job as the Cubs' regular center fielder with a strong showing this spring, delivered a three-run double and contributed three RBIs in Tuesday's game against the Rockies.

Worth noting
• Left-hander José Quintana was back at the Cubs' complex on Tuesday after being sidelined with flu-like symptoms the past couple of days. Quintana went through a light workout, but Ross said the pitcher's schedule would be adjusted based on how he feels in the coming days.

• Lefty Brad Wieck (a bullpen candidate this spring) is currently away from the team for an unspecified reason. The Cubs will provide an update when Wieck rejoins the club this week.

• The competition for the fifth spot in the starting rotation will continue later this week, with right-handers Colin Rea and Tyler Chatwood starting on Thursday (at Rangers) and Friday (at Padres), respectively.

Up next
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut for the Cubs on Wednesday, when Chicago hosts the Royals at 2:05 p.m. CT at Sloan Park. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez could be in the lineup, as they did not start in Tuesday's game. Kansas City will give the start to righty Brady Singer.

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 and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.