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For the Cubs, there is no underselling the importance of Jon Lester as a three-time World Series champion, the Game 1 starter in all three playoff rounds last year and a huge X-factor in this tight National League Central race.

After avoiding a worst-case diagnosis in the middle of August – the Cubs are calling it general left shoulder fatigue/lat muscle tightness – Lester took another step in the right direction with Monday’s simulated game at Wrigley Field.

After facing Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber and ramping up to 47 pitches, the next step for Lester will be Wednesday’s side throwing session.   

“He looked like he had no restrictions,” general manager Jed Hoyer said before the Cubs opened a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. “It looked like he was competing. You almost like to see that in a sim game, when a guy gets upset when he doesn’t execute a pitch. A couple times, I could tell he was frustrated with an individual pitch, which means he feels good enough to express that.

“He looked comfortable on the mound. It looked like he was out there letting it go.”

Lester went on the 10-day disabled list after getting five outs during a 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 17, which initially felt like it could have been a season-defining event. 

It’s unclear whether Lester – whose smooth left-handed delivery, 6-foot-4 frame and long track record of durability convinced the Cubs to invest $155 million – will need a tune-up start in the minors before jumping back into a division race where the Milwaukee Brewers are only two games back and the St. Louis Cardinals (65-65) are still lurking.  

 

“We’ll see,” Hoyer said. “A lot of it will depend on how he feels tomorrow, how he feels like he came through today. I thought he looked good. It looked like the ball was coming out well. He seemed happy with the results.

“But a lot of it is how he feels tomorrow and the next day, so we’ll kind of judge it on that.”

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With roughly 72 hours to go until the Aug. 31 waiver deadline, the Cubs are unlikely to execute another trade, given the positive reports on Lester, the number of prospects they have recently moved in win-now deals and an overall belief in the players already in the clubhouse.  

“We’ll have those discussions, but you can never count on it,” Hoyer said. “This is probably the group. We’ll look and see if there’s an addition, but this is probably the group we’re going to go forward with, plus the (September) call-ups.”