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Lester gets Cubs' Opening Day assignment

Left-hander set for seventh season-opening start, third for Chicago
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Lester will make his seventh career Opening Day start and third for the Cubs, getting the nod to open the 2018 regular season when they face the Marlins in Miami on March 29.

"Pretty cool," Lester said Tuesday after throwing 1 2/3 innings in his first Cactus League start. "Obviously, anytime the manager, team picks you to do that, it's a huge honor. I'm excited. It's probably the earliest I've ever been told. I'm excited for it, look forward to it."

MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Lester will make his seventh career Opening Day start and third for the Cubs, getting the nod to open the 2018 regular season when they face the Marlins in Miami on March 29.

"Pretty cool," Lester said Tuesday after throwing 1 2/3 innings in his first Cactus League start. "Obviously, anytime the manager, team picks you to do that, it's a huge honor. I'm excited. It's probably the earliest I've ever been told. I'm excited for it, look forward to it."

Lester, 34, also started Opening Day for the Cubs in 2015 and '17, and also did so for the Red Sox. The left-hander, who was 13-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 32 starts for the Cubs last season, has a little extra motivation this year. He admits he may be a "dinosaur" in this thinking, but he wants to total 200 innings, a figure Lester missed last year because of time on the disabled list to deal with shoulder fatigue.

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"It's frustrating," Lester said of falling short of that mark. "The two things I pride myself on is making every start and throwing 200 innings. I didn't do that last year, and in my mind, I let the team down. The one thing I've always tried to do is be there every five days.

"I don't know if 'motivate' is the right word but there may be a little chip on your shoulder to try to get back to being yourself. Last year was one of those anomalies and you move on from it."

Lester did lead the Cubs in innings pitched last season with 180 2/3, but it wasn't his past performance that prompted manager Joe Maddon to name him the Opening Day starter.

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"I wanted him to know how impressed I've been with him already this camp," Maddon said Tuesday. "Beyond what he's done in the past, there's this organic change in him now that I'm loving. He's feeling this leadership thing, but he's not forcing it. I really appreciate that.

"I've really enjoyed watching him this camp, listening to him this camp. I think this is the right thing to do right now."

Cubs Spring Training info

Why has Lester become more outspoken?

"Part of it is a lot of the veterans are gone," Maddon said. "He's been around a lot of good folks in his time. I don't think he walked into the camp thinking, 'I'm going to do this.' We all know what that's like when we have a different feeling about how we're viewing the world."

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Lester says he doesn't feel as if he's changed but that the majority of the players on the Cubs roster now are entering their fourth season together and they're more comfortable with each other.

"I feel I've gotten older and they've grown up -- which are two different things," Lester said. "I haven't noticed much difference in myself but apparently other people have. I'm just trying to be me."

By starting the season opener, Lester would be in line to also start the Cubs' home opener April 9 against the Pirates.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Jon Lester