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Lester against the Brewers in Saturday’s exhibition game. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Jon Lester gets call for eighth career Opening Day start, fourth with Cubs

SHARE Jon Lester gets call for eighth career Opening Day start, fourth with Cubs
SHARE Jon Lester gets call for eighth career Opening Day start, fourth with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. — One of the most impressive numbers related to Monday’s announcement that Jon Lester is the Cubs’ Opening Day starter is eight. That’s how many openers the big left-hander will have under his belt when he takes the mound March 28 in Texas.

Perhaps the only number on that subject more impressive is four.

That’s how many pitchers in the Cubs’ projected five-man -rotation have made opening starts in their careers, including Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana.

No team in the majors has more. Only the Yankees have as many in their projected starting five. (The Giants have four, but one is now in the bullpen and another is hurt.)

“It’s always a good feeling when you can almost put five guys in a hat and pull one out and say that one sounds good,” Lester said.

It’s tempting to suggest the unusual number of former Opening Day pitchers just means they have old guys in the rotation, and there is some truth to that in this case. Lester and Hamels are both 35. The youngest in the group is 29-year-old Kyle Hendricks.

Beyond Darvish, there also isn’t an abundance of velocity. And Darvish and Hamels have dealt with injuries in recent years.

But all four of the former Opening Day starters have pitched an opener within the last two years. And Hendricks led the majors in ERA just three years ago.

“I love our rotation, how unique each one of our guys are,” Lester said. “I know we’ve got three lefties right now, but we’re all very different in how we go about things.

“I like our guys. We’re in a good place right now.”

The infamous PECOTA projection that has the Cubs winning 79 games and finishing last doesn’t seem to think much of the aging rotation.

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But it almost certainly will have to be the strength of the club again if the Cubs are going to make the playoffs.

All of them are healthy halfway through camp and have shown sharpness and command in early spring starts. Darvish even said Sunday, “I feel the best I have in my career.”

“God, I’ll take that,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s acting that way, I’ll tell you that.”

Hamels, who has been on playoff staffs that included Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, seemed to advise against underestimating the Cubs’ starters based on age or velocity.

“When you look at guys and consider them sort of ace caliber, there’s no formula that really defines what makes a guy an ace,” he said. “I think it’s a guy that goes out and wins ballgames and keeps his team in the game.”

Ace?

The Lester announcement came with little suspense and less surprise.

It’s the fourth time in five seasons with the Cubs he’ll make the opening start after pitching four consecutive openers for the Red Sox through 2014.

“He’s been spectacular. He’s been our rock,” Maddon said. “I’ve gained an even greater appreciation working with him side-by-side [since 2015]. He’s a pro’s pro.”

Maddon didn’t unveil the rest of the opening rotation, but it seems clear it will follow the spring rotation, barring an injury, with Darvish, Hamels, Hendricks and Quintana following in that order.

“Anytime you get to start that first day is pretty cool, especially for an organization like this,” said Lester, who went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA last year, earning a fifth All-Star selection.

“It just means your teammates and organization feel like you’re doing something right. It’s always an honor to get that nod.”

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