CHICAGO -- This spring, Cubs manager Joe Maddon could tell this would be a different season for Jonathan Lester."I think he's found his voice and it's fun to watch," Maddon said. "He's a veteran, he's earned the right to be here, the big contract, and now that some of the
CHICAGO -- This spring, Cubs manager Joe Maddon could tell this would be a different season for Jonathan Lester.
"I think he's found his voice and it's fun to watch," Maddon said. "He's a veteran, he's earned the right to be here, the big contract, and now that some of the guys he's worked with in the past, whether it's David [Ross] or John Lackey, are gone, Jon is carrying on. Those guys were his mentors and he deferred to them. Now Jon's carrying the torch."
On Wednesday night, Lester did his part to keep the Cubs in contention against the Indians, giving up one run on Michael Brantley's RBI single in the third, but that's all Cleveland needed to hand Chicago a 1-0 loss at Wrigley Field.
Lester scattered six hits over seven innings, while Indians rookie Adam Plutko picked up the win by throwing six no-hit innings before losing his bid at history in the seventh.
"He threw the ball really well, extremely well," Lester said of Plutko. "To no-hit us through six is pretty impressive. It's one of the ones you chalk up and hope that it somehow evens out down the road. That's all you can do."
It was impressive since it was Plutko's second big league start. Wednesday was Lester's 358th career start.
Promoted from Triple-A Columbus prior to the game, Plutko didn't give up a hit until Anthony Rizzo's leadoff double in the seventh. Willson Contreras followed with an infield single that second baseman Jason Kipnis knocked down, and that was it for Plutko, who walked four and struck out four. Andrew Miller took over and was able to field Javier Baez's bunt to get Rizzo at home, then retired the next two batters to escape the jam.
Maddon had called for the bunt.
"Javy bunting, if he gets that down, we're at first and second and we get a run in," Maddon said. "I thought Miller, long-legged, tough to make that play. If it goes down the first-base line, I think it's an easy run. The ball broke in to Javy, and it was not an easy pitch to bunt.
"Of course, it's frustrating. We've lost that game several times this year -- really close, low scoring, unable to get a big hit when we need it."
The Cubs also appeared to have a good chance to tally in the second when they had two on and one out and Addison Russell lofted a ball to deep center. But Indians center fielder Rajai Davis robbed Russell of a possible hit while crashing into the ivy-covered brick wall.
"It looked like it had a shot and didn't go," Maddon said. "That's this ballpark."
Both of Lester's losses this year have come against the Indians. It was the fifth straight start in which the lefty has given up two or fewer runs.
"He's a pretty motivated guy," Maddon said. "The thing about Jon that stands out to me is repetition of delivery, and he's learned to pitch without that 95, 96 [mph] that he used to have.
"He doesn't have to have overt high levels of miles per hour -- he just needs to know where the ball is going. He repeats his delivery so well, and that's one of the reasons he's so successful."
Just not this time.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Cubs' glovework was on display in the first. Francisco Lindor singled to left to start the game and tried to stretch his hit into a double, but Kyle Schwarber looked like teammate Baez as he made a sliding stop to snare the ball. Schwarber then got to his feet in time to throw out Lindor at second, aided by a quick tag from Baez. Brantley then singled, but Lester struck out Jose Ramirez and catcher Willson Contreras threw out Brantley trying to steal second for an inning-ending double play.
"Schwarbs changes that whole inning right there with the great play and Javy's tag," Lester said. "Same thing with the double play in the first. That's a huge turn right there. Physically, it's going in the right direction." More >
HE SAID IT
"I think we are better than what our record shows. We've just got to continue to be us and play our game and focus on everyone in this clubhouse and care about each other. I feel like we do a really good job of that. If we just continue to do what we believe in, good things are going to happen." -- Schwarber
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
In the seventh, Rizzo tried to score from third on Baez's bunt, but Miller scooped up the ball and threw to catcher Yan Gomes, who applied the tag on Rizzo. The Cubs challenged the ruling, but after a replay review, the call was confirmed.
"Playing against Joe Maddon when he was in Tampa, it used to be a thing where it was almost automatic," Miller said of the bunt. "You were prepared for it if you were in that situation. You know it's a possibility. At the same time, I had a free swinger. But you don't want the inning to steamroll, so it's a fine line. I want to come in, I want to attack and try to get in position to get strike three. Fortunately, he bunted it right back at me. I had plenty of time to see it, because it was a breaking ball. I don't know exactly what happened at third, if it was a safety squeeze or a full-out squeeze. I felt like I had plenty of time to throw the ball and get Yan a pretty decent feed."
Maybe being back at Wrigley Field will help Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks get on track as he opens a three-game series against the Giants on Friday. He has a 2.60 ERA in five starts at home and a 4.71 ERA on the road. He's given up six earned runs over 11 innings in his last two starts, striking out 12 in those contests. Hendricks is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA in five career starts vs. the Giants, who will counter with lefty Derek Holland. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.