CHICAGO -- It's been a tale of two halves for Cubs pitcher Jonathan Lester, who has looked like anything but an All-Star since the break.Ryan Zimmerman matched a career high with six RBIs, hitting a pair of home runs, and Daniel Murphy added a two-run shot off Lester to power
CHICAGO -- It's been a tale of two halves for Cubs pitcher Jonathan Lester, who has looked like anything but an All-Star since the break.
Ryan Zimmerman matched a career high with six RBIs, hitting a pair of home runs, and Daniel Murphy added a two-run shot off Lester to power the Nationals in a 9-4 Cubs loss on Saturday at Wrigley Field.
With the loss, Lester remained winless in five starts since the All-Star break, and has been charged with 26 earned runs over 22 2/3 innings for a 10.32 ERA. Remember the first half? Lester was 12-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 19 starts.
What's going on? Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn't sure.
"I'm seeing the same stuff, I am, from the side," Maddon said. "His fastball got hit today. I don't know yet if it was a function of location or execution of the pitch, but when I watch from the side, I don't see anything differently."
Of the 10 hits Lester served up, nine came off his fastball.
"I don't want to cop out on anything, but I guess I'm just in this rut right now," Lester said. "I probably felt that was some of the better stuff I've had over the last couple starts, and that was the outcome. Unfortunately, the rotation has been throwing the ball well and now I'm the guy who's not. That's a bad feeling personally as a teammate, letting the team down, letting the bullpen down."
Lester lasted 3 2/3 innings, the second time since the break that he was unable to pitch past the fourth inning. It's the first time he's served up 10 hits since April 26, 2017.
"When I have to make a pitch, I don't," Lester said. "I feel like I made some really good pitches today that didn't go my way, and that's kind of where I'm at now. When I didn't, they got hit. That's the price you have to pay when you don't execute when you need to.
"These are big league hitters, and the more opportunity that you give them to stay within that count and stay within that at-bat, the more likely they are to get a hit or hit something hard," he said.
The Nationals last faced the lefty in Game 4 of the 2017 National League Division Series, when Lester threw 3 2/3 innings in relief.
"Jonny's a pro," Chicago's Anthony Rizzo said. "He knows how to handle success, and he knows how to handle failure with the best of them. He's our horse. We lean on him, and we're going to continue to lean on him down the stretch. I know for a fact we have all the confidence in the world when he goes on the mound to pitch well and give us a 'W.'"
Rizzo provided the main highlight for the Cubs in the third when he collected his 1,000th career hit, a single to right. Willson Contreras added an RBI single in the eighth to chase Nats starter Tanner Roark, and pinch-hitter Benjamin Zobrist roped a two-run double with two outs in the ninth.
The Cubs may have the best record in the National League, but they're making it hard on themselves. Since the All-Star break, they're 12-11 and the pitchers have compiled a 4.97 ERA. The Brewers are within striking distance in the NL Central.
"Everything's vacillating," Maddon said. "We have to pitch better and we have to be more consistent at the plate. The fact we are keeping our heads above water while we're going through this moment -- I don't see people hurt, I see people well and that's encouraging.
"It's almost encouraging that we're holding our heads above water and we haven't had that run we normally experience. We just haven't done those two parts of the game consistently well, pitch and hit, since the second half began, to really get on any kind of run."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Mr. 1,000:Albert Almora Jr. singled to lead off the Chicago third and Rizzo followed with his 1,000th career hit, a single to right that second baseman Daniel Murphy just missed. Rizzo also got his first career hit against the Nationals on June 9, 2011, when he was with the Padres. Almora reached third on Rizzo's single and scored on Javier Baez's sacrifice fly. Baez now has 89 RBIs, tops in the National League.
"You can never take that for granted," Rizzo said. "I've been fortunate to pretty much stay healthy my entire career so far. Obviously, it's a nice milestone, but I wanted to pick up the 'W' today as well."
Rizzo has reached base in 15 straight games and is batting .316 in that stretch.
"He's got many more to come," Maddon said of Rizzo. "He's still a young man. There's no telling how many he'll end up with. His baseball hitting acumen is really high."
HE SAID IT
"It's never a good time to ride the roller coaster. I get motion sickness anyway." -- Rizzo, on the Cubs' up-and-down stretch since the break
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With one out in the Cubs' first, Rizzo was on first and called safe after Roark's second pickoff attempt to first baseman Zimmerman. The Nationals challenged the ruling, and after a review, the call was overturned and Rizzo was out.
In the Nationals' fourth, Matt Wieters scored on Trea Turner's single to center. Almora threw home to Contreras, but Wieters was called safe. The Cubs challenged the ruling, and after a review, the call stood.
Cole Hamels (2-0, 0.82 ERA) will make his Wrigley Field debut as a Cub and face the Nationals' Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.28 ERA) in the series finale. Hamels has given up one earned run over 11 innings in his two starts with the Cubs. He's 16-9 with a 2.67 ERA vs. the Nationals but hasn't faced them since 2015. This will be Hamels' first game at Wrigley Field since July 17, 2016 (he threw the no-hitter there in 2015). First pitch was scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.