Lester feels good after first start back; Cubs hold off Braves 14-12
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Cubs fans breathed two sighs of relief Saturday.
The first came before the game when Jon Lester’s name was officially penciled into the starting lineup, marking his return from the disabled list with a lat strain and shoulder fatigue.
The second came in the top of the ninth when Wade Davis finally finished off a tenacious Braves lineup in a 14-12 victory at Wrigley Field. The Cubs gave up eight runs in the final three innings, including three in the ninth, but held on for their sixth win in a row.
“It was an awkward game, but that happens sometimes,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And when you win it, there’s really nothing to complain about.”
Lester’s start was hit-and-miss, but he said his arm feels good and he has no concerns about it moving forward. The biggest issue Saturday, he said, was pitch selection.
Lester threw 32 pitches in the first inning and loaded the bases with one out. He struck out Nick Markakis and got Kurt Suzuki to pop out behind home plate.
After a 1-2-3 second inning, Lester struggled his second time through the order. Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp hit back-to-back home runs, and Markakis doubled in another run. Lester allowed a third home run in the fourth inning to Rio Ruiz.
Lester got better as the game went on, and the fifth inning was his best. He needed just 11 pitches to retire the side in order. He was finished after five innings and 92 pitches, having allowed four runs and eight hits. He struck out four and walked one.
“I told our trainer I’m going to find out in the first inning whether or not I’m going to blow out or I’m going to keep riding this through,” Lester said. “We found out everything’s fine.”
Lester later said he had no concerns about his shoulder going into the game and wouldn’t have pitched if he did.
Rene Rivera, who was catching Lester for the first time, said the left-hander struggled with command in the first inning but found the strike zone the rest of the way.
“He battled through it and we got out of that first inning with no runs,” Rivera said. “After that he just was pounding the strike zone. When you throw strikes they’re going to put the ball in play. He did a great job getting ahead in the count and pitching through it.”
Rivera gave Lester a 4-0 lead in the second inning with his first career grand slam. The Cubs batted around in the inning, and Rivera blasted an 0-2 pitch from Lucas Sims off the left-field foul pole.
The offense batted around again in the fourth inning, with Anthony Rizzo driving in three with a bases-clearing triple.
In a 3-hour, 49-minute game that saw six homers, six doubles, a triple and 11 pitching changes, the Cubs added key insurance runs late. Jason Heyward hit a solo homer in the eighth, and Albert Almora drove in two with a pinch-hit single in the seventh.
The Cubs needed all the support they could get as the Braves built up momentum late.
Atlanta scored eight runs against seven Cubs relievers. Wade Davis had to come on in a non-save situation to seal the win, but not before getting charged with a run of his own.
“You could feel the momentum there,” Maddon said. “There’s a feel part of this game that I totally believe in. You can feel stuff. . . . [Davis] had to be in that game at that time.”
Lester (9-7) managed to earn the win, his first since July 27 against the White Sox. His healthy return was an even bigger victory for the Cubs.
Follow me on Twitter @davidjustCST.