It’s official, Jon Lester will throw the first pitch of the 2015 baseball season.
Joe Maddon removed any doubt Monday who he would be giving the ball to on Opening Night, April 5 against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Maddon officially named Lester his Opening Night starter.
Maddon also confirmed that Kyle Hendricks is basically locked in as the Cubs’ fourth starter. As long as injuries do not alter the plan, Joe Maddon’s Opening Day rotation will be LHP Jon Lester, RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP Jason Hammel and RHP Kyle Hendricks.
Seven pitchers will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation: LHP Travis Wood, RHP Edwin Jackson, LHP Tsuyoshi Wada, LHP Felix Doubront, RHP Jacob Turner, RHP Dallas Beeler and LHP Eric Jokisch.
According to the Sun-Times, the Cubs will stretch out 11 pitchers to use as starters this spring. The report did not include RHP C.J. Edwards or RHP Pierce Johnson. Two of the top pitching prospects are in big league camp and will begin the season in the minor leagues. Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch are ticketed to start the season in Iowa’s rotation.
Sunday, April 5 will be just the second time that Jon Lester has pitched at Wrigley Field and faced the Cardinals in a regular season game. Lester has only faced St. Louis once during a 162-game schedule and he allowed two runs on nine hits with a walk and three strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.
Jon Lester beat Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals twice in the 2013 World Series. Lester gave up one earned run on nine hits with a walks and 15 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings over two starts.
As expected, Kyle Hendricks pitched his way last year onto the Cubs’ rotation. Hendricks was 7-2 in 13 starts in the majors last season with a 2.46 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and a 3.32 FIP.
The competition for the fifth spot should be interesting to watch throughout the Cactus League games. Travis Wood would appear to have a slight edge for the spot, if he’s not traded, based on past results in the big leagues. Wood worked on mechanical adjustments during the off-season and could benefit greatly with Miguel Montero and David Ross behind the plate.
Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner have not pitched to expectations in the big leagues. Due to both pitchers being out of options, Doubront and Turner should be given every opportunity to make the team either in a starting or in a relief role this spring.
Edwin Jackson has been told he has to pitch his way on the roster. His spot on the team is no longer guaranteed even with the $22 million ($11 million per season) he’s owed over the next two years.
And Tsuyoshi Wada, based on his splits, could fit in nicely in the bullpen if he’s not able to win the fifth starter’s spot. Wada limited lefties to a .184/.245/.184 line last year in the majors while right handers hit .270/.325/.474 against him. Wada has two minor league options left but has to give prior consent to be optioned to the minors.