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Cubs put Jon Lester on 10-day DL; problem was worsening for ‘a while’

First, the good news: Jon Lester’s season doesn’t appear to be in danger.

A day after the left-hander was escorted off the field by a trainer following 1‰ innings of nine-run misery, the Cubs announced they’d put Lester on the 10-day disabled list with tightness in his left lat — the large muscle that extends up from the back into the shoulder — and “general shoulder fatigue.”

“It was encouraging last night after the examination,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “It seems like everything is structurally sound and his arm is tired, which is understandable if you look at the load he has carried, pitching seven months the last couple of years and taking the ball every fifth day. . . . He’s getting a break before anything serious happens. He’ll be down for a little while and then should come back really strong and finish the year on a solid note.”

That’s all the Cubs could hope for at this point from their Opening Day starter and last season’s National League Cy Young runner-up. Lester has had a few memorably shaky starts in his third season with the team, but he also has been the Cubs’ “rock,” as manager Joe Maddon put it.

Cubs pitcher Jon Lester walks off the field after being relieved in the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field on August 17 | Dylan Buell/Getty Images

“The guy gets after it pretty hard all the time,” Maddon said.

For only the second time in the last decade, though, Lester will fall short of 200 innings. It’s bad enough that his ERA blew up to 4.37 after his start Thursday, but it’s the rare blip in his durability that sits least pleasantly with him.

“I hate numbers,” Lester said. “The one number that I look up — and obviously I’m not going to have it this year — is the 200 innings and making every start. That’s what I pride myself on. . . . That’s the frustrating part for me.”

And that gets at the other side of this story: Did Lester and the Cubs wait too long to recognize something was amiss?

Lester, 33, has been injury-free since a 19-day stint on the DL with a similar injury — a strained lat muscle — when he was with the Red Sox. That episode was more serious because Lester experienced pain, as opposed to just tightness. Still, Lester has felt his lat begin to falter before and, he admits, knew something was off “awhile ago.” According to Epstein, Lester kept that to himself.

“He’s not one to openly talk about stuff he’s dealing with,” Epstein said. “He just deals with it. And then [Thursday], he realized he wasn’t doing the team a service by being out there. It caught up to him.”

Lester used the word “we” as he described dealing with the encroaching discomfort in recent weeks.

“It’s not something I kept quiet,” he said, “but, at the same time, it’s not something I thought was a big deal. I’ve pitched through worse.”

Lefty Mike Montgomery is expected to slide into Lester’s spot in the rotation Wednesday night in Cincinnati. Montgomery has toggled between the bullpen and the rotation as needed since joining the Cubs last season.

“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially your ace,” Montgomery said. “But it’s a challenge, and I’m looking forward to competing.”

It’s too soon to know if Lester will miss one start, two starts or — something no one wants to see — more.

“There’s no minimum or maximum,” Maddon said, “just that it’s a 10-day stay and then we’ll figure it out.”

The Cubs also put right-handed reliever Justin Grimm on the 10-day DL with an infected right index finger.

Rob Zastryzny and Felix Pena were called up from Class AAA Iowa to bolster the bullpen.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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