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Is the baseball juiced? ‘If it is, just tell us,’ says Cubs ace Jon Lester

Jon Lester watches Randal Grichuk round the bases after hitting a home run in 2017.

Home runs are being hit at a higher rate this year than ever before, and Cubs ace Jon Lester is among a growing number of prominent veterans who want to know what’s going on.

“I know they’re not rubbed-up like they used to be,” said Lester after teammate Kris Bryant’s walkoff homer, referring to the longtime practice of rubbing an MLB approved mud on game balls to remove the sheen and provide a better grip. “You get balls back, and they’re basically white. It seems like they’re right out of the box.

“I had a piece of the ball on my finger at one point tonight.”

Through April, homers were being hit in the majors at a right more than 12 percent higher than at this point last year – and more than 6 percent higher than the MLB record set in 2017.

During the past two nights at Wrigley Field, with temperatures each night below 45, wind chills in the 30s and adverse wind conditions for hitting, the Cubs (four) and Marlins (one) hit five home runs.

Homers at Wrigley and the rest of baseball also are being hit farther with higher exit velocities than in the past.

“I think I read something that David Price [of the Red Sox] said: ‘We don’t care; just tell us. It’d be nice to know,’ “ said Lester, who was quoted in the same USA Today report last week.

“Obviously, you see it across the board,” he added. “In triple-A, that’s kind of the telltale sign. These guys are way ahead of their home run total that they’ve ever [had] going to the big-league ball.”

This year, for the first time, Class AAA leagues are using the official major-league game ball, and home runs numbers and distances have skyrocketed.

“It is what it is. There’s no excuse. There’s no nothing,” Lester said. “We’ve still got to make good pitches. If we make good pitches we can still get outs. So I think I agree with what David said. If it is, just tell us. We don’t really care. There’s nothing we can do about it but continue to pitch.”

To his point, Lester’s home run rate reached a peak of 1.3 allowed per nine innings during the record 2017 season, and he has allowed only three in 32 innings (0.8) this year. He hasn’t allowed one in three starts since returning from a hamstring injury.