MESA, Ariz. — It took two weeks, but the decision wasn’t surprising.
Jon Lester will be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter when they begin their championship defense April 2 in St. Louis. It will be Lester’s second Opening Day start in three seasons with the Cubs.
‘‘He’s definitely earned it and deserves it,’’ manager Joe Maddon said when making the announcement before the Cubs’ spring game Thursday against the Reds. ‘‘Then I talked to Jake [Arrieta] about being the No. 2 guy. And Jake obviously understood why we went with
Lester, the runner-up in National League Cy Young Award voting last season, went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA in 2016. He had the second-best ERA in the majors behind teammate Kyle Hendricks (2.13).
Lester also was the co-most valuable player of the NL Championship Series during a postseason run in which he went 3-1 with a 2.02 ERA in five starts and a relief appearance in Game 7 of the World Series.
‘‘He does add to our ballclub that calming presence of, ‘Hey, I want be out here in every big spot for you guys, regardless of the situation, whoever we’ve got to face,’ ’’ teammate Jason Heyward said. ‘‘Everybody feeds off of that.’’
Arrieta, who was the Cubs’ Opening Day starter in 2016 after winning the NL Cy Young Award in 2015, was 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA last season.
Hendricks, by the way, was third in NL Cy Young voting last season after going 16-8.
‘‘Not many groups have that luxury,’’ Maddon said of the three legitimate choices. ‘‘But it obviously has to go to Jon Lester based on the body of work. We feel really good about that, and you feel great about Jake behind him and whoever we want to set up 3-4-5. It’s good stuff.’’
Sore back idles Rizzo
First baseman Anthony Rizzo was scratched from the lineup for the game against the Reds because of tightness in his lower back, but the Cubs don’t consider the injury to be serious.
‘‘I believe it’s been medically categorized as a skosh stiff,’’ Maddon said.
When asked about a potential return, Maddon said: ‘‘Hopefully [Friday], maybe the next day. He’s fine.’’
La Stella on deck?
Infielder Tommy La Stella, who has been slowed for more than a week by a tight hamstring, should be ready to return to action Friday. Maddon said he plans to start La Stella at second base against the Reds.
Non-roster infielder Jemile Weeks, who was a candidate for the Cubs’ final bench job, was diagnosed with a sprained anterior cruciate ligament and a bone bruise in his left leg after an MRI exam. The typical recovery time is four weeks, which effectively ends Weeks’ big-league camp.
Weeks, a veteran of 260 major-league games, was hurt when he was hit while making a tag on a sliding runner Monday against the White Sox.
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