Cubs veteran starter Jon Lester lifted with no-hitter intact after five innings


Veteran Cubs lefty Jon Lester pitched five no-hit innings against the Reds in Cincinnati on Monday night (CHC-CIN GameTracker) in his first start of the 2020 season. At that point, rookie manager David Ross made the decision to pull Lester and hand it over to the bullpen with the Cubs up 6-0 over their division rivals. 

The Reds finally managed a hit with one out in the sixth, as Jesse Winker notched an RBI single up the middle off reliever Rowan Wick. 

Lester’s final line for the night: 

Of Lester’s 76 pitches, 50 went for strikes, and he induced four ground-outs against six fly-outs. He might have been able to last a little longer if not for the commission of a pair of errors behind him. Had he been able to complete the bid, it would’ve been the Cubs’ first no-hitter since Jake Arrieta’s in 2016. As STATS notes, Lester is the first pitcher age 35 or older to start and not allow a hit in his season debut since Nolan Ryan in 1990.

Given that it’s Lester’s first start of the season and in light of the disruptions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — i.e., interrupted spring training and Opening Day pushed back four months — it’s certainly understandable that Ross would proceed conservatively with such an important member of his rotation. That Lester already has a no-hitter to his credit (in 2008 as a member of the Red Sox) probably made Ross’ decision even easier. 

Speaking of that Cubs’ rotation, it’s been dominant thus far in 2020: 

Lester is now in his age-36 season and no longer has much hair on his fastball. That said, he’s still very much a viable big-league starter. Last season, Lester put up an ERA+ of 100, which is slightly better than average as starting pitchers go, and in 2018 he boasted an ERA+ of 125 and finished ninth in the NL Cy Young vote. He still keeps hitters off balance with his deep repertoire and reliance on a hard-to-square-up cutter that’s been his bread and butter for years. If Monday night’s craftsmanship is any guide, then Lester will continue being a bedrock in the Cubs’ rotation. 

As Ross recognizes, that’s more important than chasing a no-hitter so early in the season. 

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