Lester efficient as Cubs pitching dominates intrasquad scrimmage
In the first 5 intrasquad games of summer camp, many members of the Cubs pitching staff had racked up 2 appearances in simulated action.
Jon Lester, however, had seen only bullpens and live batting practice work while he and the Cubs have insisted he will be ready to go for the regular season.
The veteran southpaw proved that Sunday evening, looking sharp and efficient in his intrasquad debut.
Lester started and threw 28 pitches over 2.1 innings of work. He struck out 4 of the first 5 batters he faced (Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and David Bote) and the only baserunner to reach was Nico Hoerner on a tapper in front of home plate that Lester couldn’t make a play on.
Heading into his 15th MLB season, Lester knows how to get his body and arm ready for the campaign and the Cubs trust him to do so. Over the layoff, he said he wanted to save bullets and limit his throws and even when he wasn’t getting intrasquad work, he was staying stretched out.
Still, it has to be encouraging for the Cubs to see Lester get results in a game-like situation with Opening Day only a week-and-a-half away.
The hitters stole the show in the first few scrimmages, but it was all pitching Sunday night. The only run scored was unearned and the two lineups combined for 26 strikeouts in 6.5 innings. There were only 4 hits (Nico Hoerner, David Bote, Javy Báez, Kris Bryant) and 2 of those were infield knocks.
Casey Sadler started opposite Lester and after walking Bryant and Ian Happ to begin the bottom of the 1st inning, the right-hander buckled down and struck out the next 3 hitters in order (Báez, Willson Contreras and Steven Souza Jr.). Sadler also struck out Josh Phegley and P.J. Higgins in his 2nd inning of work.
Here’s how the two squads lined up Sunday night:
1. Albert Almora Jr. – CF
2. Víctor Caratini – C
3. Kyle Schwarber – LF
4. Jason Heyward – RF
5. David Bote – 3B
6. Nico Hoerner – 2B
7. Daniel Descalso – SS
8. Hernán Pérez – 1B
1. Kris Bryant – 3B
2. Ian Happ – CF
3. Javy Báez – SS
4. Willson Contreras – C
5. Steven Souza Jr. – RF
6. Jason Kipnis – 2B
7. Josh Phegley – DH
8. P.J. Higgins – 1B
9. Ian Miller – LF
—The Cubs continue to stretch out the bulk of their pitchers, with Dan Winkler, Ryan Tepera, Rex Brothers and Duane Underwood Jr. also working more than an inning in the scrimmage.
—Underwood looked impressive, striking out 6 batters (Pérez, Almora, Caratini, Schwarber, Heyward, Hoerner) in his 2 innings of work. The only blemish was a Bote walk but otherwise, Underwood was pumping lots of strikes and sitting at 95-96 mph according to the radar gun on the Wrigley Field video board. It was reminiscent of his season debut last August when he struck out all 6 batters he faced against the Oakland A’s.
—Rowan Wick also looked solid in his inning of work, striking out the side (Descalso, Pérez and Almora) to close out the scrimmage.
—David Ross threw a wrinkle into the mix, starting out the bottom of the 4th inning with a runner on second base to simulate the extra innings rule for 2020. Miller served as the runner and came around to score the only run of the game. He advanced to third base on an infield hit by Báez and then scored when Brothers walked Kipnis with the bases loaded.
—Ross did the same thing again in the top of the 6th with Underwood on the mound, inserting Pérez at second base.
—Almora’s side is no longer an issue after crashing into the wall in Friday night’s scrimmage. He reached on an error by Báez in the 3rd, stole second base and then tagged up and advanced to third on a routine fly ball to left field a couple pitches later.
—Bryant and Happ pulled off a double steal while Báez also swiped a bag.