Cubs

Carrying three catchers comes in handy again for Cubs

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Carrying three catchers comes in handy again for Cubs

This is the benefit of having three catchers on the roster.

In the eighth inning of Thursday's game against the Mets, David Ross stepped out of the batter's box during his at-bat, grabbing at his side. He eventually bunted - with two strikes - and came out of the game.

Miguel Montero had pinch-hit earlier in the eighth inning and replaced Ross in the game (after Ross had come in to replace starting catcher Welington Castillo in the fifth inning).

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At first, it looked as if Ross had suffered a dreaded oblique injury, which have been known to shut down hitters for more than a month.

The Cubs initially called it "abdominal tightness" but Ross said Friday morning he felt fine and didn't expect a stint on the disabled list.

"I don't know exactly what it was. Maybe it released some scar tissue or something. I'm 38, there's no telling what this body's been through," he joked.

"It was just a little tweak and [Cubs manager Joe Maddon] wanted me to bunt, just to make sure I didn't do anything crazy. And then with Miggy having pinch-hit and us out of catchers, Miggy had to go in and catch.

"It was just precautionary and hopefully everything is good. I feel fine this morning."

Ross was insistent it was not an oblique injury, saying the feeling was different.

"It felt a little funny, but I took a couple practice swings and it didn't grab," Ross said. "I pulled an oblique once before in Double-A and know what that feels like. It didn't feel like that.

"It just felt like a little sharp twinge and tightened up just a little bit and then kinda released. I came in, saw the trainer and he felt where it was tight and released it. I think I'm OK."

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As for the bunt with two strikes (which rolled foul for a strikeout), Ross laughed it off, saying Maddon was "pretty adament" about the veteran catcher not swinging and risking further injury.

"Whenever that happens, you always think badly immediately," Maddon said. "So I went out there and he didn't think it was that bad when I talked to him. I said, 'You know, regardless, why don't you put down a bunt for a base hit here?' He's actually good at it, even though there were two strikes.

"I did not want him to swing and then unnecessarily do something bad. We made the adjustment because again, there are so many little things moving right there. Montero had just hit. If that had happened back in the dugout and he said soemthing after you had already taken Montero out of the game, [that would have been bad]. That's the beauty of having three catchers."

With the Pirates starting left-hander Jeff Locke on the mound Friday, the right-handed-hitting Castillo got another start behind the dish.

The hope is Ross will be set to regain his usual role as Jon Lester's personal catcher Saturday against Pittsburgh.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

In his first year with the Cubs, Ross is hitting only .192, but he has worked seven walks and clubbed four doubles to boast a .364 on-base percentage and .346 slugging. He's also served as a strong veteran voice in a young clubhouse.

The three-catcher experiment has worked for Maddon and the team so far this season. Cubs catchers have combined for an .853 OPS, tops in the National League and third in baseball.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

David Haugh, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs winning streak is over as Jon Lester's struggles continue. Should fans be worried that he can't get out of this slump? Would he be a playoff starter right now?

8:40- The White Sox rebuild continues as Rick Hahn says fans might have to wait until next spring to see whether or not they'll be contenders. Is next year too early to compete?

15:00- The Bears backups get ready to face the Colts backups Saturday night. Is there any reason to have the preseason at all?

18:30- Mitch Trubisky's preseason is over. So is he ready for Week 1?

20:00- College football is back. The panel give their picks for Florida vs Miami in the Fanduel Friday Faves.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

There are three ways to look at the Cubs' 9-3 loss Friday:

1) Jon Lester had another rough outing and the sun is starting to set on his career as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

2) Lester gave up some hard contact, but also had some tough luck and pitched better than his final line indicated.

3) Meh.

To be honest, each of the three perspectives has an element of truth to it, but the third one is probably the main way to look at it as the Cubs tasted defeat for the first time in a week.

No, the team did not play well, but it went far beyond Lester.

The Nationals didn't get into town until the wee hours of Friday morning, yet it was the Cubs who looked sluggish Friday. They managed only two baserunners - a single and a walk - until the ninth inning when they put together a too-little-too-late rally thanks to some shoddy Washington fielding.

But even if the offense did come to play, the game was out of hand by the fifth inning, when Lester and Pedro Strop combined to allow 3 runs, extending Washington's lead to 7-0.

Lester was charged with 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk over 4.1 innings, but 8 of those 9 hits were singles. The only extra-base knock off the Cubs southpaw was Adam Eaton's line drive home run in the first inning that he smacked into the 18 mph wind howling in off the lake.

Of the singles, a couple were hard ground balls knocked down by Cubs infielders and one was a perfectly executed bunt by pitcher Anibal Sanchez with two strikes that the Cubs had no choice but to hope it would roll foul. At that point in the fourth inning, the score was only 3-0, but the Cubs' misfortune seemed to open the door for the Nationals.

"I'm telling you, I don't think he was that bad today," Maddon said. "We were a little bit unlucky with him. ... Outside of that last inning when they squared him up, I thought he actually threw the ball decently.

"I think he's gonna be fine. He will find a way to get himself back into the picture in the right way. There's a lot of time left with the playoffs, etc., so I'm counting on it. I believe in Jon."

Beyond the tough luck, the Nationals hit five balls more than 100 mph off Lester, including a 108.5 mph single on the final batter (Juan Soto) he faced in the fifth inning.

After the game, Lester couldn't do much but shrug and accept responsibility for the loss.

"I feel fine," he said. "Today sucks. Tomorrow, I'll wake up and start a new day and get ready for another start. That doesn't take the sting away from today. Joe's always said, 'you win hard, you lose hard' and losing for me is even harder than that. Sucking as a pitcher is even harder than that.

"It's my job to do better and I'm not. I let a five-game winning streak basically go by the wayside because I didn't throw the ball very well. It's frustrating, but tomorrow starts a new day and move on to the next one."

Friday's game marks the fifth time this season Lester has allowed at least 6 runs in an outing. This was his 25th start of 2019, so that means 20 percent of his appearances have resulted in putting his team in a major hole.

"I think we're getting to the point where you can't isolate [the rough games]," Lester said. "They're happening a little bit too much for myself. I felt pretty good about myself after the last one, just being able to continually execute pitches. I don't feel like stuff was much different than last time, just different results and that's the shitty part about this game and my job - it's results driven and it doesn't matter how I feel or what the gameplan was going in.

"You have to execute and get people out and keep them from scoring runs and I'm just not doing that."

Lester started the five-game winning streak for the Cubs with a performance befitting true "ace" or "stopper" status. After a pair of disheartening bullpen meltdowns, he took the ball last Saturday and shut out the Pirates through 6 innings, battling despite not having his best stuff (5 walks).

But even including that start in Pittsburgh, Lester has now allowed 23 earned runs in 24.1 innings in five starts in August.

For a 35-year-old with three World Series rings and a long track record of pitching well when the lights are the brightest, he isn't where he wants to be as September approaches in a tight playoff race.

"Better than this," he said. "Usually this is the time of year where I pitch a lot better than I have been. For whatever reason, I haven't hit that stride. I usually have ups and downs to every season, but usually more ups than downs.

"Right now, it's just continuing to go down. The old saying - one step forward, two steps back - is kinda what I'm doing right now. The positive is I physically feel fine. Can't blame it on that. Just have to be better. Tomorrow's a new day, prepare for the next one."

Even with the recent struggles, Kyle Schwarber said Lester is still the guy the Cubs would want to give the ball to in Game 1 of a playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," Schwarber said. "He knows how to handle himself really well. He's a leader out there and we always have his back."

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