Though not sharp, Lester savors Opening Day experience
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO -- On Opening Night the Cubs had their ace, Jon Lester, on the mound, a bright new video board in left field and 35,055 fans eager for the start of the season. Manager Joe Maddon told the players to savor the moment.
"It was an awesome atmosphere tonight," Lester said. "It was everything I expected it to be, probably plus some, especially without any fans in the bleachers. I tried to take it all in the best I could.
"At the same time, I would have liked to have given them something [more] to cheer for than what we were able to tonight. To look back on it, it was a cool experience and something I'll always remember."
The end result was a 3-0 loss to the Cardinals charged to Lester, who allowed eight hits over 4 1/3 innings. The Cubs went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, stranding seven.
This was Lester's fifth consecutive Opening Day start and first with the Cubs, who signed him to a six-year, $155 million contract in December. The lefty struck out six, including Jhonny Peralta and Matt Adams to end the first and strand a runner. With the loss he's now 2-4 with a 4.62 ERA against National League Central teams.
Lester received a loud ovation during pregame introductions. His arrival signaled a shift in the organization from rebuilding to contending.
"He wasn't as sharp as he can be, that's obvious," Maddon said. "The cutter wasn't there for him. The velocity started real well. In the first inning, I saw 93, 94 [mph]. It looked like he could find it when he wanted to after that. But I don't think his breaking ball was where he wanted it to be."
The Cardinals' Jason Heyward went 3-for-3 off Lester with two doubles, but he downplayed his success.
"[Lester] doesn't get fazed by many things," Heyward said. "He's a big-time pitcher. But it's just one of those things where I was able to see the ball."
Lester did miss one start in Spring Training because of a tired arm, and his final two outings in Arizona were in Minor League games in front of a few hundred people. Was he still trying to get on track?
"I don't think so," Lester said. "It's still getting the ball down in the zone, regardless of who you're pitching against. I just didn't do that tonight.
"The biggest thing is getting that angle and keeping that angle throughout the game. It was there at times. I threw some cutters that weren't real good, real flat tonight. That can't happen."
Maddon isn't too worried.
"I'm really not concerned about it at all," Maddon said. "I believe in Jon Lester."