Lester bullpen move falls short, could throw rotation plans in flux

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Jon Lester pitches in relief for the first time since Game 7 of the World Series.

It was like Game 7 of the World Series Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

Except it was Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs, and the Cubs led their Division Series against the Nationals two games to one.

That didn’t stop Cubs manager Joe Maddon from managing with enough urgency to call on ace Jon Lester for three-plus innings of relief when starter Jake Arrieta needed 90 pitches to get through four innings, trailing just 1-0.

But the gamble didn’t work, despite a strong performance from Lester.

“If the score was, like, we’re losing 4-0, he would not have pitched tonight,” Maddon said. “But that part of the ballgame, I felt strongly about it.”

Lester did his job and then some, retiring 10 consecutive batters before issuing a walk to Ryan Zimmerman in the eighth — then picking off Zimmerman. He gave up a soft single to Daniel Murphy with two outs and was lifted.

But all the emotion and buzz created by the pickoff and ovation Lester got upon exiting was washed away when, two walks and a grand slam later, the Cubs trailed 5-0.

Now Lester is unavailable as a piggyback to Game 5 starter Kyle Hendricks in a loser-out game in Washington on Thursday.

Game 3 starter Jose Quintana is on deck for that duty, Maddon said.

What’s that say about what the Cubs thought about Game 4 in the scheme of this series?

“I don’t know. I just do what I’m told,” said Lester after his fourth career postseason relief appearance.

He pitched three strong innings of relief of Hendricks in the Cubs’ Game 7 victory in the World Series last year.

“I asked Monday night if they wanted me in the pen on Tuesday, and we got rained out. They came to me yesterday and said, ‘Hey, you’re in there [Wednesday],’” Lester said. “I don’t ask questions. I don’t really read into things. They wanted me down there, and Joe called my name. So you try to go out there and do your job, and I was able to keep us in it there till the end.”

If the Cubs advance, the move could put a Game 1 pitching decision in doubt for Saturday’s NLCS opener in Los Angeles.

Lester threw 55 pitches; Game 2

would seem more plausible. Hendricks would be out; Arrieta likely, too, after 90 pitches Wednesday.

John Lackey against Clayton Kershaw, anyone?

In case you missed it

When the Cubs came back to win Game 3 on Monday, they became the third team in history to win a postseason game after being no-hit through six. The others: 1974 Oakland Athletics in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Orioles and 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series against the Yankees.

This and that

The Cubs on Thursday face their sixth elimination game during their three-year postseason run. They’re 4-1 in the first five, winning the 2015 wild-card game and Games 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series last season and losing in Game 4 of the 2015 NLCS.

† Four Cubs starting pitchers in the series have allowed exactly two hits each and a total of one earned run (0.40 ERA in 22‰ innings).

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Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com


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