The Rundown: Lester Strong in First Start, Hoyer Speaks

The Cubs’ Opening Day starter looked the part yesterday.

In his first Spring Training start, newly acquired ace Jon Lester faced the minimum over two scoreless innings against the Reds. He gave up one hit and struck out three.

I’m looking forward to many more dominant scoreless innings from Lester this season.

After his outing, Lester was all business with the media. He criticized himself for pitching up in the zone at times, and then discussed what it takes to win on a team filled with youth.

“Time to grow up sometime,” Lester told Jesse Rogers. “When I played in Boston we didn’t have time to grow up. You just had to show up and play. Each year we were expected to win. That’s how I feel. Every year they should come in and expect to be not only division winners but world champs. If you don’t, you’re playing for the wrong reasons.”

Being a National League guy, I haven’t been exposed to Jon Lester much over the years. I knew he was a great pitcher, but I had no idea about the kind of leadership he has had on display ever since signing with the Cubs. I’m very impressed so far.

I can see exactly why the Cubs’ front office would be willing to dish out $155 million over six years for him. If there’s somebody you’d want to take that kind of chance on, it would be somebody like Lester.

As for yesterday’s bout with the Reds, the Cubs lost 5-2. Reliever Brian Schlitter gave up all five runs.

This year’s Cubs team will be vastly different from the past couple years, but I’m really hoping they’ll be able to get over the hump when it comes to the Reds. Over the past three seasons, the Cubs went 17-37 against the Reds.

That is … not good.

Hoyer speaks

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer appeared on the Mulley & Hanley show on the Score yesterday and discussed a number of topics. Responding to a comment from owner Tom Ricketts made earlier in the day on the station, that it would be a “disappointment” if the Cubs don’t win the division in 2015, Hoyer tapped the brakes a bit.

He said everyone needs to remember just how many young players are going to be in the lineup at one time, with Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara and Kris Bryant all being very inexperienced. And they will be counted on heavily if the Cubs are going to win the division.

On the topic of Baez, specifically, he talked about the young infielder’s approach at the plate with two strikes. The Cubs would like him to focus more on putting the ball in play with two strikes.

“A strikeout with two outs and no one on is not a big deal,” Hoyer said. “But a strikeout with guys on base, when you have a chance to move runners or have a chance to drive in a run with less than two outs, that is a big deal.”

Hoyer compared Javy’s struggles to Anthony Rizzo when he was first called up. If Baez could even come close to making the kind of adjustments Rizzo has made, that would be something, wouldn’t it?

To help lead the youngsters, the Cubs brought in players like outfielder Dexter Fowler and catcher Miguel Montero. The Cubs valued a number of aspects of Montero’s game, Hoyer said. In addition to his pitch-framing skills, they liked that he hit from the left side and doesn’t strike out a lot. He also said the Cubs looked thoroughly into Montero’s makeup and relationships with pitchers — something I was actually worried about when the Cubs initially traded for him.

One final note of interest, Hoyer talked about manager Joe Maddon and bullpens. He said Maddon has historically been able to get more out of his bullpens than any other manager in baseball. Given that the bullpen was already a strength, the Cubs could have themselves one heck of a relief squad this year.

Other notes

* Outfielder Junior Lake, trying to grab one of the final roster spots, collided with the Reds’ Brandon Phillips yesterday while advancing on a wild pitch. He left the game with a bruised forehead but appeared to be OK, according to Gordon Wittenmyer.

* Did you remember to get your single-game Cubs tickets yesterday? If you forgot and were hoping to attend Opening Night on April 5, you’ll need to look to secondary markets. The game sold out in short order. The Cubs also announced the July 11 game against the White Sox is sold out. People are clearly very excited for this season, and for good reason. Yesterday’s game at Sloan Park set a Cactus League attendance record, with 15,331.

* Why would left-handed reliever Phil Coke turn down a major-league offer to sign a minor-league deal with the Cubs? He thinks the Cubs are on the verge of something special, writes Patrick Mooney. I’d say he has a pretty good shot at making this team, based on the Cubs’ lack of a veteran lefty presence in the bullpen.


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