Willson Contreras, Jon Lester make more progress

Willson Contreras had another eventful day behind the plate.

He threw out two runners trying to steal second base and picked David Freese off first in the seventh. He couldn’t keep his foot on the plate in the eighth on an attempted force out when the Pirates took the lead, and he was unable to stop Jason Heyward’s errant throw from getting away, letting another run score.

Perhaps most importantly, his working relationship with Jon Lester continued to grow.

“I feel just good with him,” Contreras said Sunday after the Cubs lost 6-1. “We’ve been good.”

Willson Contreras reacts after Alen Hanson scored the go-ahead run Sunday. | Getty Images

Lester threw seven scoreless innings and lowered his ERA to 1.00. The veteran lefty, who had worked almost exclusively with the now-retired David Ross the last two years, praised Contreras for his defense, how he has handled the pitching staff as a whole and the job he did to take Lester through a rough 24-pitch first inning and to another strong start.

“Willy’s fine. Willy’s done a really, really good job,” Lester said. “He’s still young. Our team is still young, so we’re going to still have some growing pains here and there, but since I’ve worked with him, he’s done nothing but a really good job.”

Lester was asked how much work he and Contreras have done together between starts, and the answer was telling.

“Nothing,” Lester said. “He’s got other stuff to worry about than catching me.”

Lester said that during spring training the two talked a couple times and met with catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello, but the comfort comes from just working together in games.

“You can work on stuff in bullpens all you want, but until you get into the fight, it really doesn’t matter,” Lester said. “You’ve got to grow together and take that game plan into the start.”

Tight standings

Entering play Sunday, the Cardinals were the only National League team more than four games below .500. Conversely, only the Reds were four above.

Could those condensed standings be a sign of competitive balance? Maybe. But it just might be a theory from manager Joe -Maddon’s past playing out.

“That would be, in the beginning part of the season, there are some players that are going to react to the adrenaline of the beginning of the year. After two or three weeks, the adrenaline wears off and the good guys show up,” Maddon said. “Those guys start kicking it in a little bit more and start gaining a notch on the adrenaline group.

“It is becoming closer. I’m curious to see if there’s any separation after another week or so.”

Still away

Maddon had no update on the status of Carl Edwards Jr., who is on the bereavement list. Edwards, 25, has thrown 4‰ innings in five appearances and has a 0.00 ERA.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow.

RELATED STORIES

Bullpen struggles again as Cubs get swept by Pirates

After second loss to Pirates, Cubs not sweating slower start