Lester seeks return to form vs. Taillon, Bucs

Lester seeks return to form vs. Taillon, Bucs

With Jake Arrieta about to miss a start or two and Milwaukee and St. Louis still hanging around in the National League Central, the Chicago Cubs would find it most welcome if Jon Lester can get into a consistent rhythm Thursday against Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon in the finale of the four-game series at PNC Park.

The first-place Cubs have a four-game lead on the Cardinals and a 4 1/2-game lead on the Brewers in the NL Central.

On Saturday, the left-hander started for the first time since going on the disabled list Aug. 18 with what was labeled shoulder fatigue. Lester's numbers were a bit shaky -- five innings, four runs, eight hits (including three home runs) and a walk in a 14-12 Cubs win over Atlanta -- but the reviews generally were favorable, including Lester's.

"We found out everything's fine," Lester (9-7, 4.46 ERA) said. "I felt like the ball was coming out pretty well. "Maybe a couple of pitch selections [I'd like] to have back, but we won the game. We're all good. Moving in the right direction."

Lester has a 5.32 ERA in his last 17 starts. Nevertheless, catcher Rene Rivera said Lester will be fine.

"He's [trending] the right way to help us win," Rivera said.

Taillon (7-5, 4.50 ERA), meanwhile, pitched six scoreless innings, yielding three hits, in a no-decision against the Reds on Saturday in a game the Pirates won, 5-0.

Things to know about this game
• The last of the three home runs Lester allowed against the Braves, off the bat of Rio Ruiz, just made it into the Wrigley Field basket in left-center field. Based on its exit velocity of 94.5 mph and launch angle of 31 degrees, the ball's expected slugging percentage of .620 was the second lowest on a homer against Lester over the past three seasons, according to Statcast.

• Taillon was 5-2 with a 2.73 ERA in 11 starts before the All-Star break. He is 2-3 with a 6.75 ERA after the break.

• First baseman Anthony Rizzo is the ninth Cub to reach 100 RBIs in a season at least three times and the second left-handed hitter to do it, joining Billy Williams.

Bob Cohn is a contributor to MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.