Lester feeling more comfortable as Cubs win 6-1

  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester throws against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning of a baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester throws against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning of a baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

Updated 4/6/2016 1:09 AM

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Jon Lester is beginning his second year with the Cubs, and manager Joe Maddon has noticed differences on and away from the pitcher's mound.

Lester looked plenty good Tuesday night, pitching 7 innings of 4-hit, 1-run ball as the Cubs won 6-1 over the Los Angeles Angels.


When asked Tuesday about Lester's pitching, Maddon said: "Delivery. I don't think there was a moment last year that I thought his delivery was as smooth as I saw it during this past (spring-training) camp."

Aside from that, Lester has moved from being last year's opening-night starter to the second slot behind Jake Arrieta. Before last season, the Cubs signed Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract.

The body language suggests strongly that Lester is feeling more comfortable.

"I also believe that one year removed from last year, he's more comfortable, not having the weight of the world on his shoulders, having been that free agent signed," Maddon said.

Lester concurred.

"Obviously, I'm in a better place than I was last year coming into the season," he said. "Last year was just so different. There was a lot of hype involved just around myself, a lot of expectations for myself. You try to go out there for that first start and live up to those expectations all at once as opposed to just letting the season play out and go through your 32-33 starts an see where we're at in the end."

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The Cubs' offense had Lester feeling comfortable by scoring 4 runs in the third inning and 2 more in the seventh. Matt Szczur led off the third with his first homer of the year, a big drive to left field. Jason Heyward added an RBI single, and Anthony Rizzo capped the inning off with a 2-run homer to center. Dexter Fowler hit a 2-run homer in the top of the seventh.

Arrieta keeps on going:

It's cliché to say, but Cubs ace Jake Arrieta has picked up where he left off last year in his Cy Young season. The numbers are really impressive.

With 7 shutout innings Monday, Arrieta has thrown 29 consecutive scoreless innings in the regular season dating to Sept. 22 of last year.

That's tied for the sixth-longest scoreless-innings stretch by a Cubs starting pitcher since 1900.

Arrieta became the sixth player in Cubs history with at least 7 innings pitched and 2 or fewer hits allowed on Opening Day. He has recorded 12 wins since Aug. 4 of last year.


Super Nova:

Monday was a big night for Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur. He went into left field as a defensive replacement and later hit a 3-run double.

A product of Villanova University, he also got to celebrate his school winning the NCAA men's basketball championship.

"I won't even make the paper," he said.

After Villanova had won, the Angels showed the finish on their videoboard.

"Right before they put it on the big screen, someone came in and said Nova was up 74-71 with 13 seconds left," Szczur said. "I looked up after I heard the crowd cheering. I could tell it was Villanova on the screen."

The 26-year-old Szczur officially made the team late in spring training. He is out of minor-league options, meaning he would have to clear waivers before the Cubs could send him down. For now, he's feeling good.

"It's a good feeling," he said. "I'm able to play like myself. I don't have to worry about going up and down. It's a lot of stress off my shoulders, a lot of weight off my back. I can just be myself and play."


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