<
>

Joe Maddon not concerned about Jon Lester

CHICAGO -- When you’re a starting pitcher and you sign a contract for $155 million over six years, you can expect to have every appearance examined, dissected, scrutinized and -- if everything isn’t just so -- criticized.

So it’s not surprising that some are wondering what’s wrong with Chicago Cubs ace Jon Lester, who has allowed 11 earned runs on 18 hits in 9 1/3 innings in his past two starts.

Those are numbers that could get a younger, unproven player shipped back to the minor leagues, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he believes the rough recent stretch can be easily explained by the cyclical nature of baseball.

“As this season wears on, you’re gonna see him get really hot and really shut down [opponents],” Maddon said before Saturday night’s game with the Cincinnati Reds. “It’s gonna happen at the right time.

“I’m not concerned. He’s well, he’s healthy. At the beginning of the year, I kind of defended the beginning because of his spring training and then he came on pretty good. If he has a couple of bad outings, it doesn’t bother me in the least. If a guy is good and he’s not injured, he’s OK.”

There’s no question Lester’s first season with the Cubs has been a roller coaster so far. The left-hander missed time in spring training with arm fatigue and was 0-2 with a 6.23 ERA in four April starts. He made a 180-degree turnaround in May, going 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in six starts during the month.

Right now, June doesn’t look promising at 0-2 with a 10.61 ERA, but Maddon believes Lester’s past two starts -- at Miami June 3 and at Detroit June 9 -- weren’t as poor as the numbers may indicate.

“Actually, last game I thought he had really good stuff,” Maddon said. “If you replay the base hits, they’re hits, doesn’t look good, but a lot of ground balls in the hole between third and short, up the middle and into right field.

“That’s why when you look at things and how guys are performing, you gotta really break it down and understand what’s going on here. I don’t want him to feel like he got beat up because he didn’t. It wasn’t like he was making awful pitches because he wasn’t. He may not have been on top of his game, but I thought his stuff was pretty good.”

Lester gets another chance to begin an up cycle in the finale of the three-game series when he will be performing in front of a national audience on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

At 4-5 with a 4.25 ERA through 12 starts this season, it would seem he’s due for a hot streak.