CHICAGO – Through no fault of his own, Cubs pitcher Jon Lester got himself upstaged by a Cleveland Indians pitcher named Adam Plutko on Wednesday night.
Lester turned in seven strong innings of six-hit, one-run ball, but he received little offensive support as the Cubs fell, 1-0, and got swept in the two-game series.
Plutko, called up Wednesday from Triple-A Columbus, was making his second major league start, and he didn’t allow a hit until Anthony Rizzo led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a line-drive double to right field.
Willson Contreras followed with an infield single, chasing Plutko in favor of Andrew Miller, but the Cubs failed to score. The key play in the inning was Javy Baez bunting right back at Miller, who easily got Rizzo at the plate.
Lester has been quite the story for the Cubs. Signed to a six-year, $155 million deal before the 2015 season, he now is in the second half of that contract, but at age 34, he is showing no signs of slowing down.
Often, teams go into these kinds of deals with the expectation that the player and the team will have success on the front half and then hope for the best on the back end.
Lester helped the Cubs win the 2016 World Series, and he’s still going strong.
“Pretty motivated guy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The thing about Jon that stands out to me [is] repetition of delivery, and he’s learned to pitch without that 95 to 96 [mph] that he used to have. I think that’s a big part of it. He’s done it for the last couple years. When I first saw him, I knew he was mid-90s all the time, or least 94ish with that nasty cutter.
“He repeats, repeats, repeats his delivery, repeats so well. So I think that’s a big part of why [he] can be [so successful], because he’s probably not going to backtrack. He’s not going from 90 to 91 to 92 [mph] on occasion to 87 to 88 [mph] anytime soon, I don’t think. So I think that’s why he’s been able to sustain it.”
Early in Lester’s Cubs career, he struggled with shoulder fatigue in spring training and admittedly put pressure on himself to live up to the big deal he signed. But he quickly grew to be comfortable as a Cub.
“I know you all could feel that,” Maddon said. “I can definitely feel it myself. Like I’ve said before, I think he’s found his voice, and it’s really kind of fun to watch. He’s a veteran. He’s earned the right to the big contract.”
Lester gave up his only run Wednesday on a two-out RBI single to Michael Brantley in the third.
Cubs batters took three walks from Plutko in the second, but Lester grounded out to end the inning.