Manager Joe Maddon said he’s witnessing “another level” of Cubs ace Jon Lester.
After Lester threw his ninth quality start of the season and added a double, homer and three RBI in Saturday’s 10-4 victory over the Pirates, Maddon said it’s the best version of Lester that he’s seen.
So how did Lester take the compliment?
“I feel old,” he said to laughs. “That’s obviously high praise. . . . I’ve felt a lot better about my stuff and where I’ve been at. Hopefully I can continue to ride that momentum as we go forward in the second half and pitch well down the stretch.
Maddon is most impressed by Lester’s ability to control his emotions and keep calm in bad counts or tough game situations.
He came out of the game with two outs in the seventh inning, but probably had more to give despite throwing 98 pitches.
“Watching him on the mound, he doesn’t get in a hurry,” Maddon said. “If something happens he’s able to reel himself back in. He slows it down, repeats his delivery. He’s able to do that.”
Lester covered 6‰ innings and gave up three runs on eight hits. He has gone 4-1 with a 2.97 ERA in his last five starts and is 6-2 with a 2.62 ERA at home.
The players behind Lester see him thriving, too.
“He’s a competitor,” Jason Heyward said. “He’s coming at you. He’s going to throw strikes. He mixes it up every now and then with the game plan. He’s got to do his thing, and he stays true to himself. Then when we get to the postseason, he knows there’s another switch, another level. And he stays locked into that.”
Cubs rock Lyles
The Cubs worked out any leftover resentment with the Pirates and pitcher Jordan Lyles on the field and left behind the fireworks of their Fourth of July meeting.
The Cubs scored seven runs in the first inning against Lyles, knocking him out of the game after two-thirds of an inning. His departure with two outs in the first made for an extra-sweet moment for Cubs fans amid the offensive explosion.
Lyles had worked Maddon into a rage during a game on July 4 with one too many pitches high and inside. Maddon was ejected from that game and charged toward the Pirates’ dugout in his anger.
With those fresh memories, the Cubs batted around in the first, which saw seven runs, five hits, four walks and a 4-for-6 clip with runners in scoring position.
The Cubs have set their staring rotation for the three-game series against the visiting Reds beginning Monday.
The Cubs plan to recall right-hander Alec Mills from Class AAA Iowa to start Tuesday’s game at Wrigley Field. Mills played seven games for the Cubs last year with two starts, going 0-1 with a 4.00 ERA.
Kyle Hendricks will start Monday, and Yu Darvish will pitch Wednesday.
Cole Hamels threw from flat ground Saturday during pregame workouts and continues to progress from an oblique strain. He has been on the injured list since June 28.