CHICAGO -- Jon Lester felt he pitched better in his brief relief appearance in last week's All-Star Game than he did against the Mets on Monday night, but the Cubs were happy with the outcome at Wrigley Field.
Lester rebounded from the shortest outing of his career on July 3 when he lasted just 1 1/3 innings against the Mets by going 7 2/3 innings on Monday night as the Cubs posted a 5-1 win. The lefty scattered four hits, including a solo homer by Wilmer Flores, and struck out three.
"Better location, better stuff -- that's really it," Lester said. "I was up a lot in New York, and they were swinging the bats really well and they made me pay for it. I got the ball back down, got my cutter back in play, and got a lot of quick outs. There's a few things in there that I needed to dust off as far as a little bit of rust delivery-wise. It hurt me throughout the game as far as the walks, kind of rhythm stuff."
Third baseman Kris Bryant handled five ground balls, which Lester said is a good sign that he's throwing the ball well.
The Cubs had lost Lester's four previous starts, but his outing on Monday continued a trend that started since the All-Star break. In the last four games, Chicago starters have a 1.95 ERA and have given up two homers over 27 2/3 innings. In the previous 21 games, the starters had a 6.04 ERA.
There are still some things Lester feels he needs to work on, and the same can be said for the young Cubs.
"We didn't play very well in New York, and I think that's the biggest thing," Lester said of the June 30-July 3 series that the Mets swept. "We came out tonight and played clean baseball. We had good, quality at-bats.
"Tonight, we played really good defense all over," he said. "I think that's a key for us is getting back to clean baseball. Anybody we play, we've got the target on our back. They want to beat us, and we know that. We have to make sure we don't beat ourselves. We've done that prior to the break, and I feel we've played really good baseball after the break. Hopefully we'll continue to do that and keep pitching and worry about the rest as we go."
Said Anthony Rizzo about Lester: "It was good to see him do what he does. He's locked in from the first pitch on. That's a good one for us."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. 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.