Cubs’ Lester looks to stay hot vs. Pirates

MLB

Jon Lester didn’t even allow a hit in his first outing of the season.

The veteran left-hander will attempt to follow his strong debut with another solid showing when the Chicago Cubs host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday and look to finish off a sweep of the three-game series.

Lester, 36, was pulled after five innings and 76 pitches in the start against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday. He struck out one, walked one and hit a batter and departed with a 7-0 lead. Chicago eventually won 8-7.

Avoiding distractions is part of the quest for Lester, who is in his 15th big-league season.

Obviously, he has never played baseball during a pandemic before, but he feels he and his teammates are handling the coronavirus situation well.

“All that we can really do is worry about the Chicago Cubs,” Lester told reporters. “Guys around here, if you see somebody without a mask on walking around the clubhouse, guys point it out. So I think we’re all accountable to each other, and that’s a good thing. And hopefully we can continue to do that.”

Lester went 3-0 with a 3.16 ERA in five starts against the Pirates last season to continue a pattern of success. He is 12-6 with a 3.18 ERA in 23 career starts versus Pittsburgh.

Lester has easily handled right fielder Gregory Polanco (2-for-16, eight strikeouts) but has struggled with second baseman Adam Frazier (6-for-11, two doubles).

The Cubs hit four total homers while winning the first two games of the series. Ian Happ and Javier Baez hit solo homers, and Kyle Schwarber smacked a two-run blast as Chicago recorded a 4-3 win on Saturday for its fifth victory in the past six games.

Chicago third baseman Kris Bryant was scratched from the lineup shortly before Saturday’s game due to gastrointestinal issues, and he appears doubtful at best for the series finale.

“Got to run through standard protocols, just making sure with everything we got going on that he’s feeling alright,” Cubs manager David Ross said after Saturday’s game. “We’ll get him tested (for COVID-19) just as a precaution tomorrow morning.”

The Pirates have lost three straight games but are receiving unexpected power from third baseman Colin Moran. He slugged a two-run homer in the ninth inning on Saturday to take over the major league homer lead with five.

Pittsburgh added another run later in the frame but fell short of recovering from a 4-0 deficit.

“This group doesn’t quit,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton told reporters afterward. “We continue to have good (at-bats) and have a chance to win the game late.”

Left-hander Steven Brault will be on the mound for Pittsburgh. He worked two innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in his season debut on Monday but didn’t return after a rain delay. He gave up one hit, two walks and struck out one.

Brault is expected to pitch three innings on Sunday with right-hander Chad Kuhl then entering as the replacement.

Brault has struggled against the Cubs, serving up 10 homers in 38 1/3 innings over 14 appearances (five starts). He is 0-2 with an 8.22 ERA.

Brault is 0-1 with a 10.29 ERA in nine appearances (three starts) at Wrigley Field. Bryant (8-for-16) and catcher Willson Contreras (5-for-11) each have smacked two homers off the 28-year-old.

“Haven’t had quite as much success,” Brault told reporters of facing the Cubs. “Ready to take them on and keep working.”

Pittsburgh had two pitchers leave Saturday’s game due to injuries — starter Mitch Keller (left side discomfort) and fellow right-hander Michael Feliz (right forearm discomfort).

–Field Level Media

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