PITTSBURGH — He nearly dug himself into a hopeless hole. Instead, Jon Lester freed himself — with the help of a couple of once-unheard-of hits — and earned his fifth victory Tuesday as the Cubs came back to beat the Pirates 8-6.
Lester fell behind the Pirates 2-0 in the first inning, 3-0 in the second and 4-2 in the fifth, but he hung in the game long enough to complete six innings on 90 sweaty pitches. And by the time his work was done, a seventh-inning Cubs rally had taken the veteran Cubs lefty off the hook.
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“He hung in there, righted himself and pitched extremely well,” manager Joe Maddon said.
But make no mistake: Lester’s bat was as key as his arm.
With one out in the fifth inning, Lester started a rally off Pirates starter Nick Kingham with a sharp single through the right side of the infield. Ben Zobrist followed with a home run to bring the Cubs to within 3-2.
An inning later, manager Maddon allowed Lester to bat with Jason Heyward on second base and two out. Lester lined a single to right to pull the Cubs within 4-3.
Let’s review: The 34-year-old Lester was 0-for-36 (with a mere 21 strikeouts) in his American League days. He was 4-for-62 (.065) in 2015, his first year with the Cubs. But since then he has piled up his first six extra-base hits — including a memorable 2017 homer — and 15 of his 16 career RBI.
“I got lucky,” Lester said.
Yeah, well, whatever works.
Working it out
Tyler Chatwood, who has failed to get out of the third inning in back-to-back starts, hopes he has hit on something that will help him with the control problems that have defined his debut season in the Cubs rotation.
Throwing a side session before Tuesday’s game, Chatwood worked on shortening his stride and getting his pitching hand out of his glove sooner during his delivery. Fouled-up timing clearly has been an issue for a pitcher with more walks (45) than strikeouts (44).
His next scheduled start is Friday against the Mets at Citi Field.
“It was a good side,” he said. “I felt really good with everything, so I’m excited to pitch Friday.”
A strained back muscle knocked right-handed pitcher Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, out of Tuesday’s start for Class AAA Iowa. The 23-year-old left the game after four perfect innings.
Alzolay has struggled to find a groove at Iowa this season, posting a 2-4 record and a 4.76 ERA. Word on a possible disabled-list stint reportedly could come on Wednesday.