Chicago Cubs

Cubs fall to Dodgers in Lester's return; confidence remains high

The Dodgers' Cody Bellinger watches his sacrifice fly against the Cubs during the eighth inning Thursday at Wrigley Field.
The Dodgers' Cody Bellinger watches his sacrifice fly against the Cubs during the eighth inning Thursday at Wrigley Field.

CHICAGO – Like any good homeowner, the Cubs got a few things done around the house during the past week.

When they walked in the door last weekend, they were below .500. Despite Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field, the Cubs felt pretty good about themselves as they locked the doors and headed for Arizona

The Cubs head out on a western swing with a record of 12-11 and seemingly confident a slow start will be the worst of it.

“It’s trending in the right direction, that’s for sure,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We’ve just got to continue to play good baseball. Guys are ready to play every day, doing the right things with the right attitude, the right mindset.”

Fueling the Cubs’ recent turnaround has been solid starting pitching. They got their ace back Thursday as lefty Jon Lester came off the injured list and tossed five creditable innings, giving up four hits and one run.

Lester had been out since straining his left hamstring in the April 8 home opener, but he looked healthy Thursday, throwing
79 pitches as his record fell to 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA.

“Just good to be back out,” he said. “Tired of being in the clubhouse and not doing anything.”

The rest of the staff shouldered the workload well while Lester was out. Over the past
12 games, Cubs starting pitchers have a 1.80 ERA, striking out 82 and walking 21.

“It was nice for those guys to pick up my slack and pitch well,” Lester said. “We’ve been playing really well here the last couple of weeks. I feel good about our guys.”

The Dodgers scored their run against Lester in the fifth. Alex Verdugo led off with a triple to center field and scored on a fielding error by shortstop Javy Baez. Three Cubs relievers combined to give up a run on no hits in the eighth.

The only Cubs run came on Albert Almora Jr.’s two-out homer in the ninth against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.

Only a couple of weeks ago in Milwaukee, team president Theo Epstein was apologizing to Cubs fans for the poor start. He, too, was seeing better things Thursday.

“As tough as that start was, I think it’s going to be good for us in the long run,” he said. “We got tested early. I think you find out a lot about individuals and the team when there’s adversity. Even though it’s early and even though we’ve all been through it before, when you get off to a really rough first week of the season in a big market, there are a lot of doubters.

“It can push guys. It can test guys. I think they’ve certainly responded the right way by recommitting to their routines and the foundation and each other and pulling out of it. I think it’s a real positive sign.”

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