Closer Craig Kimbrel had to be patient during his prolonged free agency, and the Cubs aren’t planning to rush him onto the mound.
On Saturday, his new teammates showed why they might deserve an addition such as Kimbrel — whenever he’s ready to pitch.
After left-hander Jon Lester allowed four runs in the first inning, the Cubs came back to beat the Cardinals 9-4. They scored twice in their half of the first to cut the deficit in half, tied the score in the fourth on a home run by Kyle Schwarber and took the lead in the sixth on a three-run double by pinch hitter Victor Caratini.
‘‘I saw a lot of mental situational hitting going on today,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘I saw guys going the other way at the right time.’’
After his rough first, in which he gave up a three-run homer to Marcell Ozuna and a solo shot to Harrison Bader, Lester settled in. He retired the last 11 batters he faced and ended up allowing four runs and five hits in six innings.
While Lester still was miffed about his first inning, nobody with the Cubs was holding that against him. They were thinking more about the five scoreless innings he threw after that, giving the offense time to rally.
‘‘That was huge,’’ Schwarber said. ‘‘That’s Jon, and he’s not going to go out there and quit. After that first inning, it was classic Jon, going out there, keeping us in the ballgame [and] not giving up a run after that.’’
As for how he was able to hang in and give the offense a chance to come back, Lester was succinct.
‘‘I didn’t really have a choice,’’ he said. ‘‘I just had to make an adjustment somehow.’’
Kyle Ryan, Brandon Kintzler and Tyler Chatwood each pitched a scoreless inning to preserve the Cubs’ fifth victory in their last six games. Kimbrel, of course, wasn’t available and wouldn’t have been needed even if he were in uniform.
The Cubs hope Kimbrel finally will provide them with some stability in the ninth. During their competitive years under president Theo Epstein, they’ve run through Hector Rondon, Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis and Brandon Morrow, spending money and prospects in an effort to figure out the ninth.
That’s what the Cubs want from Kimbrel, who threw a bullpen session earlier in the day, and they don’t want to sacrifice that goal so he can save games now.
‘‘You got him for the rest of this year and hopefully deep into the playoffs again, but you also have [him for] two more years,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘You have to really be mindful of all that. . . . I don’t even know exactly what the timetable’s going to conclude at, but be patient.
‘‘He’ll let you know. He’ll let you know, and the people that are watching will let you know.’’
Those who watched Saturday saw the Cubs force the Cardinals to throw 192 pitches in eight innings. They also watched Schwarber homer on the 11th pitch of an at-bat, double and score two runs.
‘‘I’ve been feeling pretty decent over the last week or so,’’ Schwarber said. ‘‘Just going up there and, whenever I get the pitch, hitting it and don’t miss it.’’
Maddon also likes what he’s seeing from Schwarber — and not only because of the homer that left his bat at 115 mph.
‘‘That’s what it’s supposed to look like,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘Not because of the home run. What he’s doing at the plate right now, we need to keep that in the jar because that looks really good.’’