Jon Lester Planning to Make Next Start, MRI May Say Otherwise

Jon Lester was cruising through the first two innings of Monday’s home opener and had even sparked the Cubs’ offense with an RBI double, later scoring from second on a single. But in helping his own cause against the Pirates, he may have hurt it moving forward. Lester felt tightness in his left hamstring and had to leave the game after allowing a pair of singles to open the 3rd inning.

The lefty said he felt something at the back of leg while rounding third, but that it wasn’t a pop and wasn’t necessarily painful. He described it as more of a cramp, which is why he was comfortable going back out for the 3rd inning. Lester even lobbied successfully to remain in the game when Joe Maddon and head trainer P.J. Mainville came out to check on him after giving up a leadoff single to the opposing pitcher and getting behind 2-0 on Adam Frazier.

Maddon said in his postgame media availability that he deferred to Lester’s “veteranship,” figuring it could really have been just a cramp. After seeing Lester give up a second single to open the frame, however, Maddon came back out with the hook.

Lester is scheduled for an MRI Tuesday, the results of which will determine his availability for this weekend against the Angels. As you might expect, he’s proceeding as though it’s business as usual.

“In my mind, I’m making my next start,” Lester said after the game. “Tomorrow may tell us something different and then we’ll re-evaluate, but I don’t think it’s as bad. Everybody on the training side always kind of thinks the worst-case scenario. I don’t. I don’t feel that way.”

Gee, it sounds a little ominous when you put it like that, but Lester’s a plain-spoken guy and isn’t using “worst-case scenario” as anything more than trainers just erring on the side of caution. Maddon indicated that Lester would likely miss his next start regardless, noting that a trip to the MRI tube can set things back.

Lester being out means the Cubs would have to have all hands on deck in a bullpen game that would probably see Tyler Chatwood starting. Since the deposed fifth starter has worked exclusively in relief since the start of spring, he almost certainly can’t be stretched out by Sunday. But with Mike Montgomery on the IL until at least Monday, there aren’t many other options.

And hey, it’s not as though the Cubs are used to their starters other than Lester lasting much longer than an emergency outing anyway. Therein lies the problem, since they’ve dealt with too many short starts already in the young season and could really use a little more length from the rotation in order to rest the ‘pen for the weekend.

“I don’t think about any of that,” Chatwood responded when asked about the possibility of taking the bump in Lester’s stead. “I’m just ready to pitch whenever. Hopefully he’s okay. He’s our horse. We need him.”

Even if the MRI comes back clean, skipping Lester’s turn wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Once the Cubs finish with the Angels this weekend, they’ll head to Miami for three games and will then have next Thursday off. Lester could take the hill for the Friday afternoon game against the Diamondbacks after 10 days between starts, the equivalent of an IL stint without the need to shuffle the roster.

Although if they go that route, the Cubs may as well put Lester on the IL to make sure they’ve got an extra arm available for that Sunday game or just in general. We’ll know more about the plans later, so check back or stay glued to the Twitters.

Update: A report from Jesse Rogers says that the Cubs will indeed place Lester on the IL after Maddon said Tuesday that the lefty would miss at least one start and maybe two. The severity of the issue is still unknown, so it’s still entirely possible that this move would be nothing more than procedural, a way to keep the roster full while Lester rests.

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