Pirates blanked as Lester, two Cubs relievers combine on one-hitter
CHICAGO — 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.
For the Pirates, on the other hand, are piling up losses.
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 Pirates, Chicago's 11th win in 13 games.
Nick Kingham (2-3) allowed both runs and four hits in 6 1⁄3 innings. The Pirates lost for the sixth time in seven games and have dropped seven straight series. The Pirates are 5-16 following a 26-17 start.
“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.
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 ball 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 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.
The Pirates were without second baseman and leadoff hitter Josh Harrison, absent because of a personal matter, Hurdle said.
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.
Notes: Hurdle said RHP Ivan Nova (sprained ligament in right ring finger) is expected to come off the DL and start Sunday. ... RHP Richard Rodriguez (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.