Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lefties Heaney, Lester duel to wrap opening series

A year ago, Jon Lester was still trying to get to know everyone's names on the Cubs. Now, the left-hander can take a deep breath as he makes his first start of the regular season Tuesday night facing the Angels' young lefty Andrew Heaney.
Heaney, 24, is coming off a 3.49 ERA in 18 starts in his rookie season. The lefty was pretty much a lock to crack the rotation in Spring Training, but moved to the No. 2 slot with Tyler Skaggs not ready to come back from Tommy John, C.J. Wilson starting the year on the disabled list, and Jered Weaver throwing 80 mph.
Heaney has 135 career innings over two years, and those numbers would be considered an off year for Lester, 32, who has totaled 200 innings in seven of his last eight seasons (and missed doing so in 2011 by 8 1/3 innings).
Heaney has never faced any of the Cubs. Chicago ranked 12th in the National League last season against left-handed pitching, batting a collective .238. Anthony Rizzo defied the sabermaticians and batted .294 against southpaws (compared to .272 vs. right-handers).
This isn't the last meeting between these two teams. They'll square off again Aug. 9-10 at Wrigley Field and play under National League rules.
What to watch for:
• With Lester starting, the Angels will switch up their lineup. Right-handed-hitting Craig Gentry will replace Daniel Nava in left field and may bat second. Kole Calhoun will probably move from fifth to sixth.
• Albert Pujols has hit 56 career home runs against the Cubs, his most against any opponent. Of course, most of those came when he was with the Cardinals. He's ninth on the all-time home run list against the Cubs, with eight Hall of Famers ahead of him.
• Chicago catcher David Ross, 39, who has announced he's retiring after this season, will be paired up with Lester. Ross enters this season needing four home runs to finish with 100 in his career.
• The 2015 season was the year of the rookie for the Cubs, with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber making their Major League debuts, and Bryant winning National League Rookie of the Year honors. This season, the Cubs begin without a rookie on the Opening Day roster. According to baseball historian Ed Hartig, a rookie has been on the Opening Day roster in 15 of the last 20 seasons. The exceptions include 1996, '99, 2002, '07 and '12.

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