By ANDREW SELIGMAN, AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Jon Lester sees the Chicago Cubs delivering enough big hits and sparkling plays in the field.
More than anything, he sees his team piling up victories. And to him, it’s starting to feel like the 2016 championship season all over again.
Lester combined with two relievers on a one-hitter, and the Cubs took advantage of a first-inning slip by center fielder Starling Marte in a 2-0 victory Saturday over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago’s 11th win in 13 games.
“I think it took everybody a little bit last year to recover and get back to normal,” Lester said. “When you come off that high of Game 7, you’re looking for that high, you’re trying to get up for every game, and it’s just not there. I think it took us a while for that. This year, I feel like everybody just came in with a different mentality.”
Lester (7-2) allowed a two-out triple in the third to Austin Meadows, then retired Marte on a groundout. The left-hander struck out five and walked two in seven innings, improving to 5-1 in his past six starts.
Justin Wilson worked a perfect eighth, Steve Cishek retired all three batters in the ninth for his second save and the Cubs remained a half-game behind NL Central-leading Milwaukee.
Nick Kingham (2-3) allowed both runs and four hits in 6 1/3 innings. Pittsburgh lost for the sixth time in seven games and has dropped seven straight series. The Pirates are 5-16 following a 26-17 start.
Kris Bryant led off for the second straight day and was hit by Kingham’s second pitch. The game turned on Kingham’s next offering, when Marte settled under Jason Heyward’s fly but fell as the ball bounced to the wall. That put runners on second and third, and when Ben Zobrist followed with an RBI groundout and Anthony Rizzo a sacrifice fly , the Cubs had a two-run lead after just six pitches by Kingham.
Manager Clint Hurdle defended Marte’s decision to call off left fielder Austin Meadows.
“You’re a center fielder,” Hurdle said. “You’ve won a Gold Glove. I think you call the ball if you think you can get to the ball.”
Bryant was 0 for 2 with an intentional walk after getting three hits Friday in his debut as a leadoff hitter.
Pittsburgh was without second baseman and leadoff hitter Josh Harrison, absent because of a personal matter, according to Hurdle.
Catcher Francisco Cervelli was struck on the mask and left side of his jaw by Heyward’s foul ball in the third inning, then was replaced by Elias Diaz for the bottom of the fourth.
Chicago’s Javier Baez entered in the ninth, and the second baseman ended the game with a neat grab.
He raced down the right-field line to snag Marte’s foul, his momentum causing him to lean into the seats after he made the catch.
Pirates: Hurdle said RHP Ivan Nova (sprained ligament in right ring finger) is expected to come off the DL and start Sunday. … RHP Richard Rodriquez (right shoulder inflammation) said through an interpreter his injury is “nothing severe” and he expects to return when he is eligible to come off the DL on June 17. … Cervelli was being monitored for concussion symptoms, Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said.
Cubs: Manager Joe Maddon said the Cubs will probably have “a pretty good idea of where we’re at” by the end of the upcoming week with RHP Yu Darvish (right triceps tendinitis). Maddon said the pain is subsiding, but wasn’t sure when he will start throwing off the mound. He said Darvish will likely go on a rehab assignment before rejoining the rotation. … SS Addison Russell was back in the lineup after being held out of it the previous four games because of a bruised left middle finger, though he did enter late in Friday’s win.
Pirates: Nova (2-5, 4.96 ERA) has not pitched since May 24. 0-4 in his past seven starts.
Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (4-5, 3.59) looks to bounce back after giving up a season-high five runs in a loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
© 2018, Forrest Church. All rights reserved.