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Cubs strike early, ride Lester's gem past Reds

Veteran lefty overcomes rainy conditions to pitch 6 strong innings, with 8 K's
Special to MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- Following a one-hour, 33-minute rain delay, the Cubs started Friday's game with five consecutive hits and let starter Jon Lester do the rest, coasting to an 8-1 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Three first-inning runs gave Lester plenty of room to operate. The big lefty sat down 10 of the first 11 Reds batters before Scooter Gennett led off the bottom of the fourth with the Reds' first hit, a single to right. But Lester induced a double-play grounder off the bat of Eugenio Suarez and got Joey Votto to ground out to end the frame.

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CINCINNATI -- Following a one-hour, 33-minute rain delay, the Cubs started Friday's game with five consecutive hits and let starter Jon Lester do the rest, coasting to an 8-1 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Three first-inning runs gave Lester plenty of room to operate. The big lefty sat down 10 of the first 11 Reds batters before Scooter Gennett led off the bottom of the fourth with the Reds' first hit, a single to right. But Lester induced a double-play grounder off the bat of Eugenio Suarez and got Joey Votto to ground out to end the frame.

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A solo shot to left-center field by Adam Duvall in the bottom of the fifth was the only damage vs. Lester, who allowed two hits and one earned run in six innings, with one walk and eight strikeouts.

"That wasn't easy, but it was just nice to play, nice to get going and pitch. Figure out a way to deal with [the weather]," said Lester.

Video: CHC@CIN: Lester K's Votto looking to end the 1st

Over his last six starts, Lester has allowed only seven earned runs over 35 2/3 innings while fanning 33 batters. He has not allowed more than three earned runs in an outing during that same span.

"Yeah, Johnny, tough first inning only because they kept fouling pitches off. I thought he kept getting better," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Lester's outing. "He wanted to go back out [in the seventh] to try to save the bullpen."

Addison Russell did his part to make sure the Cubs stayed aggressive at the plate, reaching base five times (4-for-4 with a walk). In Chicago's three-run first, Russell got his night started with an RBI single. He singled again in the third, fifth and sixth innings before drawing a free pass in the eighth. Russell's four hits tied a career high for the shortstop.

Video: CHC@CIN: Russell collects 4 singles against the Reds

In addition to Lester's gem, Maddon was also not surprised to see Russell have the night he did.

"What you see is he's not missing his pitches right now. He's accepting his walks, his on-base percentage is really climbing," Maddon said. "To me, that says a lot. That was one thing I did look at on the scoreboard tonight that I thought was pretty impressive."

"Our guys have done a great job of bouncing back. I feel like early on, we were kind of behind the eight ball a little," added Lester. "I feel like we've played some really good games, just haven't been on the other side of them. Hopefully we can get on a little bit of a [roll] here."

SOUND SMART
With Ian Happ batting eighth and Lester hitting behind him, the Reds elected to intentionally walk Happ in his first three plate appearances. Happ is the first Cubs player to earn three intentional walks in a game since Andre Dawson drew five walks in 1990, also against Cincinnati. After Happ's third intentional walk, Lester executed a squeeze play that scored Kyle Schwarber from third.

Video: CHC@CIN: Lester bunts Schwarber in from third

In his fourth at-bat, Happ blooped a one-out double to shallow left field.

HE SAID IT
"I don't like roller coasters. I'll stay in the kiddie end with the Dumbo. What is it, the Goofy one at Disney World that I rode this offseason, which was not bad. I made it through that one. The Seven Dwarves one was a little much for me, but I got through that one with the seven-year-old." -- Lester, joking about his feelings on roller coasters after a comment about the Cubs riding a bit of a roller coaster early this season

UP NEXT
Kyle Hendricks takes the mound for Game 1 of Saturday's twin bill at 12:10 p.m. CT. Hendricks will be making his ninth start of the year, and is 3-3 with a 3.20 ERA in 50 2/3 innings. The right-hander is 1-1 with a 5.70 ERA in four career starts at Great American Ball Park. Luis Castillo will get the ball for Cincinnati.

In Game 2, the Cubs will send Jose Quintana out to make his 10th start. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. CT, and Sal Romano gets the start for the Reds.

William Rettig is a contributor to MLB.com based in Cincinnati.

Chicago Cubs