This is what the Cubs are paying Jon Lester for.
After four rocky starts to begin the 2015 season, the $155 million pitcher flashed his dominance Friday, hurling seven shutout innings to pick up his first Chicago win as the Cubs beat the Brewers, 1-0, in front of 31,128 fans at Wrigley Field.
"This is a big day for me personally," Lester said. "It always goes back to your first start in spring training, your first start of the season, when you get that first 'W.' Obviously, we would have liked to have had that happen a while ago, but that's not the case."
Lester needed only 90 pitches to get through his seven innings, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out four. He set down 15 of the last 16 batters he faced, lowering his ERA from 6.23 to 4.71 in the process.
"It just keeps getting better," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's going to keep getting better, too."
This was more like the Jon Lester with a 3.62 ERA and 116 victories over his nine-year career.
"A little crisper, ball was coming out really good," catcher David Ross said. "He had a good fastball, some late velocity behind it. Stuff was a lot sharper. I thought he was WAY back to being the Jon that I know and the guy that I'm used to. It's good for the Cubs."
Ross - who became Lester's personal catcher when the two were in Boston - said he believes this is the Jon Lester Cubs fans are going to get most of the time when he's on the mound.
Ross also felt Lester may have been pressing a bit with the pressure that came with the enormous contract.
"I envy his bank account, not the expectations that come along with that," Ross deadpanned. "It's human nature and you want to go out there and prove every last penny of that. But that's impossible, so I think as a catcher, I'm excited about what I saw today."
Lester endured a dead arm period in spring training that threw him off a bit and admits he was not executing to the degree he's become accustomed to in his first four starts with the Cubs.
At the same time, Lester was a bit unlucky, with a .424 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against him in those four starts, which was well above league average. Lester's FIP (fielding independent pitching) was also 2.27 - a far cry from his 6.23 ERA - which is another indicator that he was getting unlucky.
Only, Lester doesn't look at it like he was "due."
"I think luck is what you make of it," he said. "It comes down to pitching better, executing better and you make your own luck at the end of the day."
Even with the victory, Lester's mindset hasn't changed. It's still all about "the next one" and not getting complacent.
"Today's a big day," he said. "We'll celebrate this and have some fun with it, but tomorrow, it's back to work and look forward to the next one."
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Addison Russell supplied the only offense the Cubs needed, depositing his first big league homer into the new left-field bleachers in the third inning.
The Cubs collected eight hits but ran into three outs on the basepaths, including two at third base when Cubs runners tried to stretch from first to third on base hits. Maddon said after the game he had no issues with the Cubs' aggressiveness on the basepaths.
Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon preserved the win for Lester by combining for four strikeouts over the final two innings.