Lester comes out 'locked in' with opening gem

'This year I feel more like myself,' Cubs lefty says

Lester comes out 'locked in' with opening gem

ANAHEIM -- A year ago, Jon Lester was dealing with a shortened Spring Training, created because of some soreness in his left arm. He had a new contract, and was pitching for a new team in a new league. He was frustrated with how his first season with the Cubs went.

On Tuesday, all of that was forgotten as Lester opened with seven solid innings, holding the Angels to four hits in the Cubs' 6-1 Interleague victory.

"Physically, mentally, I'm light years ahead of where I was last year at this point," Lester said.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo could tell immediately.

"After Jon's first pitch today, it was a ball, but I was like, 'Man, that moved a lot more than it normally does,'" Rizzo said. "He looked locked in. It was nice for him to get rolling. We want our pitchers to get rolling and feel good and comfortable and us scoring runs for them is just going to help."

Rizzo's two-run home run

Besides being healthy and more comfortable with the Cubs, the biggest difference for Lester is his delivery. Cubs manager Joe Maddon saw it in Spring Training.

"I don't think there was a moment last year when I thought his delivery was as smooth as I saw it in this past camp," Maddon said.

Lester agreed.

"I fell into some bad habits for whatever reason," the left-hander said of last season. "I don't know if it was trying to create something with arm angle or arm speed and I fell into some bad habits. It really affected me through the year.

"This year I feel more like myself," he said. "I'm able to repeat more. The ball is obviously down more. I'm able to fix mistakes the next pitch as opposed to three or four pitches later."

In his first year with the Cubs, Lester was 11-12 with a respectable 3.34 ERA. Imagine what he could do if he's feeling that much better.

"Last year was so different," Lester said. "There was a lot of hype involved around myself and a lot of expectations for myself and you try to go out there for the first start and live up to those expectations all at once as opposed to letting the season play out and go through your 32 starts and see where you're at at the end."

He didn't get his first win with the Cubs last season until his fifth start. Now, he's got the first "W" out of the way. It's the first time he's gotten a win in his first start of the season since 2013.

"The biggest thing is we played good baseball -- that's the main thing," Lester said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.