Lester likes energy in Cubs' camp this spring
Baez remains out with hamstring issue; Denorfia, Murton join front office
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs appear to have recovered from the World Series hangover, and Jonathan Lester tuned up for the team's next run with five scoreless innings on Friday against the Angels.
"The energy level has been good," Lester said after the Cubs' 6-1 win in front of 15,481 at Sloan Park. "I'm sure everybody says the same thing in every camp, but like I said, it's crisp, it's clean, we're moving on to the next thing. I feel the games are being played so much better this year than last year.
"Whoever wants to put 'hangover' or whatever on there, I think guys last year, it ended a little sour and they're ready to improve on that," Lester said of the Cubs, who reached the National League Championship Series last year, only to lose to the Dodgers.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
"I know for myself, that's one of the reasons [motivating] me. It didn't go as well as I wanted or expected last year. It's been a good energy, even the guys, the non-roster guys, the fill-in guys, they've all done a great job at their job."
The Cubs' World Series championship in 2016 was the franchise's first since 1908.
"We were feeling good about ourselves [last spring] -- we just broke a 108-year-old curse," Lester said. "I'm sure when we came into camp there was a feeling of, 'Well, we'll just show up and do it again.' I don't know if that's true, but I think it's good sometimes to get your butt kicked and knocked down, especially after you've tasted success. I think we're in a good place."
Kyle Schwarber and David Bote each smacked two-run homers Friday, and Bote added an RBI single, to back Lester. New closer Brandon Morrow struck out one in one inning.
Catcher Chris Gimenez was busy. He nearly picked off a batter at first and was credited with a caught stealing when Kaleb Cowart tried to steal home in the third. Usually Willson Contreras catches Lester, but Contreras has not played since Tuesday because he's battling a fever. His status is day to day.
Lester complimented Gimenez for his pitch calling in the third against Luis Valbuena, who the lefty struck out to end the inning.
"The sequence was great for a guy who has never caught me," Lester said.
Javier Baez, who had to leave Thursday's game because of tightness in his left hamstring, was still being evaluated and not expected to play Saturday.
"It's still there, it's still bothering him a bit," manager Joe Maddon said of the soreness. "We're trying to figure out exactly what's going on."
Baez said Thursday he thought the problem might be from dehydration. The second baseman has played in seven games so far, and is 5-for-16 with five strikeouts. The Cubs, of course, would like to see Baez cut down on the strikeouts. That will take experience, Maddon said.
"Of course, he needs more at-bats," Maddon said. "I don't know if he'll benefit from more Spring Training at-bats. He needs at-bats over the next couple years. It's getting better, it's totally getting better. I keep talking about once he stops swinging at the slider in the dirt, this guy becomes a superstar. I think that's accurate."
Infielder Chesny Young, who replaced Baez at second base, also had to leave the game after colliding with first baseman Anthony Rizzo chasing a foul ball.
"We're saying contusion," Maddon said of Young, who has a bruise on his head. "I have not heard the word 'concussion' at all. We still want to watch him. When he got hit like that, he said, 'I want to stay in the game,' but I can't let that happen. I thought we did the right thing. I hope we are correct that it is a contusion."
Reliever Pedro Strop, who has been slowed because of a tender left calf, threw a bullpen session on Thursday. He was expected to pitch in a Cactus League game later next week.
Jason Heyward was the Cubs' leadoff man for the third time this spring and went 1-for-3 with a double in the first. He's now 2-for-9 in the No. 1 spot.
He's one of four players to bat leadoff so far. Ian Happ is 9-for-21 with four homers, one triple, two doubles and eight RBIs in eight games in the No. 1 spot, while Albert Almora Jr. is 0-for-7 in three games there, and Benjamin Zobrist is 0-for-3 in one game.
• The Cubs named Chris Denorfia as special assistant to the president/general manager and Matt Murton as baseball-operations assistant.
In their new roles, both Denorfia and Murton will contribute to all elements within the baseball-operations department. They will visit the Minor League affiliates to work with the players on and off the field, evaluate amateur players leading up to the Draft, and spend time around the Major League club.
Denorfia, 37, concluded his 10-year Major League career with the Cubs in 2015, and was a career .272 hitter. Murton, 36, played 15 professional seasons that included five in the big leagues and six in Japan. He made his Major League debut with the Cubs in 2005.
The Cubs have split-squad games on Saturday, and Kyle Hendricks will make his third spring start in the early game (2:05 p.m. CT) at Sloan Park against the White Sox, while Luke Farrell will go in the night game (8:05 CT) in Glendale against the Dodgers. Both games can be seen on MLB.TV. Saturday will be Hendricks' third spring start. He's given up two earned runs on four hits over five innings so far, striking out seven. It will be Farrell's first spring start.
Looking ahead, Yu Darvish will make his second Cactus Leaguce start on Sunday against the Athletics.