Lester pitches 2 scoreless innings in spring debut with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. (AP) For Jon Lester, it was just the beginning of the road to opening day. Nothing more, nothing less.

Lester pitched two scoreless innings Friday in his spring debut with the Chicago Cubs, who lost 5-2 to the Cincinnati Reds.

The veteran left-hander got Billy Hamilton to fly out to right leading off the game, and then struck out Brandon Phillips, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce - all swinging. He broke Chris Dominguez's bat on a one-out single in the second, and Kristopher Negron followed with a double-play grounder.

''It was all right,'' Lester said. ''Tempo was good, I felt good about that. Just ball was up a little bit for me. I threw a couple good cutters, but like I said, first one, got some jitters, amped up and all that stuff, so ball's going to be up a little bit. But got some stuff done in the bullpen as far as fixing that. Like I said, now it's time to build off that.''

Lester was one of the top free agents in the offseason, and opted for a $155 million, six-year contract with Chicago. He went 16-11 with a career-low 2.46 ERA in 32 starts with Boston and Oakland last season.

The Cubs finished with a losing record in each of the last five years, but they begin this season with high expectations following an active winter - highlighted by the big deal with Lester.

''If you're not expecting yourself to win, then why are you playing the game?'' said Lester, who also will get the ball for the first regular-season game against St. Louis. ''I don't show up to lose. That's definitely not something I enjoy.''

Brennan Boesch hit a three-run homer in Cincinnati's five-run seventh in front of a Cactus League-record crowd of 15,331. Boesch is in camp on a minor league deal and is trying to win a spot as a reserve outfielder.

Reds left-hander Tony Cingrani worked out of a pair of jams while pitching two scoreless innings. He allowed two hits, struck out two and walked one.

''He's really focusing so much on his delivery,'' manager Bryan Price said, ''just to make sure that everything stays solid within his delivery so his shoulder stays strong and healthy. So I think it's only going to get better as far as his stuff goes.''

Cingrani, 25, was sidelined by a sore shoulder for much of last season. The Reds traded away Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon in December, giving Cingrani a prime opportunity to make the rotation.

''The different mechanics make my arm feel loose,'' Cingrani said. ''Last year after that first start, I felt the shoulder and never really recovered. My mechanics will keep that from happening again, I think.''

ON THE CLOCK

Lester and plate umpire Kerwin Danley had a brief discussion before the start of the third about the new pitch clock for warming up before each half-inning.

''That second inning I was a little late getting out there and he was just asking me if I felt like I had enough time,'' Lester said. ''So figure out all that stuff later.''

Lester said he didn't even notice the clock.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Reds: 1B Joey Votto will make his spring debut Saturday against Kansas City. The 2010 NL MVP played in only 62 games last season because of strained muscles above his left knee. ... Price wants RHP Homer Bailey to throw two more bullpens, using more curveballs, before he pitches live batting practice and then in games. Bailey had surgery on his right elbow in September.

Cubs: OF Junior Lake was shaken up on a play at second in the fourth inning and departed with a face contusion. It looked as if Lake may have run into Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips as he went for a high throw.

STARTING TIME

Reds: Paul Maholm pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Cingrani. Maholm also is competing for a spot in Cincinnati's rotation.

Cubs: Lester has made at least 31 starts in each of the last seven years.

UP NEXT

Reds: RHP Mike Leake gets the ball against the Royals. Leake set career highs for starts (33), innings (214 1-3) and strikeouts (164) in 2014, going 11-13 with a 3.70 ERA. He will be followed by RHPs J.J. Hoover, Kevin Gregg, Sam LeCure, Jumbo Diaz, Nate Adcock and Matt Magill.

Cubs: RHP Jason Hammel makes his first spring start Saturday against Colorado. Hammel began last season with Chicago, and then was traded to Oakland in July. He finished with a 10-11 record and a 3.47 ERA, and returned to the Cubs in free agency for a $20 million, two-year contract.

---

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.