First choices: Yu Darvish ‘ready,’ Jon Lester tested as Cubs eye starter for opener against Brewers
Lester has made eight Opening Day starts, four for the Cubs; Darvish opened for the Rangers in 2017 after returning from Tommy John surgery.
MESA, Ariz. — Nobody’s exactly calling it a job battle — if you can get anybody to talk about it at all, that is.
But until manager David Ross names an Opening Day starter, every time Yu Darvish or Jon Lester pitches could offer a sneak peek at how the Cubs might line up March 26 against the Brewers in Milwaukee.
‘‘I like that opportunity,’’ said Darvish, a four-time All-Star who made an Opening Day start for the Rangers in 2017 — and who says he’s feeling stronger and more confident than he has in years. ‘‘I’m not sure if I’m pitching Game 1, but if I have the ball, I’ll look forward to it. . . . I’ll be ready.’’
Darvish will make his first start of the spring Saturday against the Brewers after simulating two innings Monday during a live batting-practice session. That lines him up for the opener if the projected starters get an extra day between now and then, which seems the likeliest scenario.
That would give Ross the luxury of scheduling Lester for the home opener March 30 against the Pirates.
If not, Lester is lined up on an every-fifth-day schedule to make that Opening Day start after beginning his spring Tuesday against the Rockies.
‘‘I don’t care, as long as I have a spot,’’ said Lester, who has made eight Opening Day starts in his career, including four in his five previous seasons with the Cubs. ‘‘I’ll pitch wherever they tell me to pitch. Whatever day they tell me, I’ll be there and try to do the best I can.’’
Either way, the tone-setting aspect — the sheer best chance to win — might be more important than the symbolic value than at anytime this core has been together, given the importance of a strong start with a potential trade-deadline purge at stake.
Until giving up eight runs in a loss to the Brewers in September, Lester was 5-1 with a 1.84 ERA in eight starts against them with the Cubs. That included seven scoreless innings last July at Miller Park.
Darvish has been even better in his four starts against the Brewers for the Cubs. He has allowed two earned runs in 22 innings (0.82 ERA), and two of his three quality starts in 2018 were against the Brewers before an elbow injury ended his season.
‘‘A lot can happen in a month,’’ Lester said.
Eye on the rotation
After Kyle Hendricks starts Wednesday against the Royals, long-shot rotation candidate Colin Rea is scheduled to make his first start of the spring Thursday against the Rangers. Tyler Chatwood, the favorite to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation, is slated to make his second spring start Friday against the Padres.