April 05, 2016

It might have brought a familiar feeling to Chicago Cubs fans who are constantly listening for the other shoe to hit the floor, but Jon Lester insists last month's revelation that he has at least one bone chip in his pitching elbow isn't a cause for hand wringing.

The veteran left-hander can do his part to put minds at ease with a better start to this season beginning Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Angels than in his first campaign in the Windy City.

The clearest sign that the Cubs were ready to contend came ahead of last season when they signed Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal. He was a largely solid performer with 21 quality outings in 32 starts for a 97-win team that reached the NLCS and set a franchise record for a left-hander with 207 strikeouts, but he had some hiccups while going 11-12 with a 3.34 ERA.

That included an 0-2 record with a 6.89 ERA in his first three games, but he went 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in six starts in May. There were also his peculiar difficulties/hesitancy in executing pickoff attempts to first base, and Lester gave up a major league-worst 44 stolen bases as a result.

The report that Lester has a bone chip floating in his elbow appeared to provide fodder to those looking for a reason. The Cubs and their pitcher are banking on it staying put or he might have to undergo surgery.

Lester appeared to have no issues in spring training, allowing one earned run in his final 15 innings. He yielded one hit and one walk over five innings while striking out 10 on Saturday against Colorado.

"I've been pitching a long time. I've dealt with different minor and bigger things through my years. I think you can go back and look. I haven't missed any time for any elbow problems," Lester said. "I know for a fact it's been there for a while. It is what it is. You can take any pitcher who's been in this game for a while and stick him in a tube, and you'll find something."

Lester wasn't aided last season by a 3.78 run support average that was sixth-worst among NL qualifying starters and the lowest in his career. He got one run in his two postseason starts while going 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA.

The Cubs would appear ready to change that after their potent lineup cranked out a 9-0 victory in Monday's opener against the Angels. Dexter Fowler had three of his team's 11 hits while Miguel Montero and Matt Szczur drove in three runs apiece.

"We've prepared for this for a long time," said reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, who went seven innings. "The last game we played was in the NLCS. We were ready for this moment. Guys came into camp ready, with a game plan. Everybody executed appropriately."

Andrew Heaney will try to quell the Cubs' bats while helping Los Angeles avoid a two-game interleague sweep. The left-hander went 6-4 with a 3.49 ERA in 18 starts for the Angels last season.

Heaney has never faced the Cubs or any of their current hitters.

"Each time out (in spring training), I felt a lot better. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to get this thing going," he said after going 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in five spring starts.

Lester will see the Angels for the first time since Sept. 24, 2014. He went 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in his final four matchups while in the AL, receiving seven runs of support in a combined 28 innings.

Lester was 5-2 with a 3.26 ERA in his first 10 matchups, including three in the postseason, and got a 4.60 run-support average.

Albert Pujols is 5 for 12 with two doubles lifetime against him, and Andrelton Simmons is 4 for 10 with a double.

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