Plutko outduels Lester as Indians blank Cubs 1-0
Through no fault of his own, Cubs pitcher Jon Lester got himself upstaged by a Cleveland Indians pitcher named Adam Plutko Wednesday night.
Lester turned in 7 strong innings of 6-hit, 1-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 Class AAA 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 Javier Baez bunting right back at Miller, who easily got Rizzo at the plate.
Maddon took responsibility for the bunt call.
"High strikeout percentage versus Miller," said Maddon, whose team is 25-21. "Javy's one of the best bunters, him and Jonny. I talked to him about it in the dugout, and he kind of liked it, so we went with it."
Neither Baez nor Rizzo was available after the game.
Lester (4-2, 2.37 ERA) has been quite the story for the Cubs. Signed to a six-year, $155 million deal before the 2015 season, he is now 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 hoping the player and the team have success on the front half and hoping 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," said Maddon. "The thing about Jon that stands out to me (is) repetition of delivery, and he's learned to pitch without that 95-96 (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 94-ish with that nasty cutter.
"He repeats, repeats, repeats his delivery, repeats so will. So I think that's a big part of why so successful and can be, because he's probably not going to backtrack. He's not going from 90-91-92 on occasion to 87-88 anytime soon, I don't think."
Lester gave up his only run Wednesday on a two-out RBI single to Michael Brantley in the third.
"Tonight, actually I was telling Hick (pitching coach Jim Hickey) after I got taken out that it was probably physically the best I've felt in a long time," Lester said. "Bullpen (pregame session) was really, really crisp. It was nice to get up once and get in the game, which was good as opposed to any rain delays. That was nice. Physically I feel great. When you're able to feel good going into a start, you're able to repeat your mechanics a lot easier and throw the ball where you want to.
"First couple innings, I almost felt too strong and was pulling the ball a little bit when I was going away and got away with a few pitches."
Cubs batters took 3 walks from Plutko in the second, but Lester grounded out to end the inning.
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