CHICAGO (AP) — Although it wasn’t enough to keep the Cubs rolling, Jon Lester was pleased with his first outing in more than two weeks.
The Los Angeles Dodgers spoiled the veteran left-hander’s return to the rotation by scoring on an error and a sacrifice fly, beating Chicago 2-1 on Thursday to avoid a three-game sweep.
Lester (1-1), who spent 16 days on the injured list with a left hamstring strain, allowed one run on four hits in five innings. He struck out five and walked none.
“I felt fine, I felt normal,” he said. “It’s just good to be back out there. I was tired of being in the clubhouse and not doing anything.”
Cody Bellinger drove in the Dodgers’ second run with a sacrifice fly off Kyle Ryan in the eighth after Los Angeles loaded the bases with two walks and a hit batter. It was Bellinger’s 31st RBI of the season, tying Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich for the most in the majors.
Bellinger went 1 for 2, raising his major league-leading batting average to .426.
“I just wanted to elevate the ball,” he said of his sac fly. “That was it. Do whatever I could to elevate the ball. Had a decent pitch to do it on, so I just tried to hit it in there.”
Pedro Baez (2-1) struck out three in 1 1/3 innings for the win. Kenley Jansen allowed Albert Almora Jr.’s homer in the ninth but got the final three outs for his eighth save.
The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Alex Verdugo led off with a triple to center. With the infield playing in, Chris Taylor hit a routine grounder to shortstop that Javier Báez booted for an error. Verdugo easily scored once the ball scooted away.
In the bottom of the fifth, Kyle Schwarber led off with a double. Ross Stripling then struck out pinch-hitter Mark Zagunis and retired Ben Zobrist on a grounder to first base. He was lifted for Baez, who walked Kris Bryant but got Anthony Rizzo to fly out.
Stripling allowed five hits and struck out six, throwing 76 pitches in his 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
The Cubs were struggling when Lester went down on Apr. 8, but the team rebounded — it won seven of eight before Thursday — on the strength of its starting pitching. Including Lester’s performance, Chicago starters have a 1.80 ERA in the last 12 games.
Pedro Strop earned the save in the Cubs’ win on Wednesday despite a trying day off the field. His car was stolen from the parking lot of the apartment building where he lives earlier in the day, but said he had no trouble focusing. The car was later recovered.
“It has nothing to do with baseball, and I just treat it like that,” Strop said.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Addison Russell will play second base as well as shortstop during his seven-day minor league rehab assignment. Báez has been playing short during Russell’s 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, and the team has to decide what to do when he is activated.
“We’ve begun the conversation,” Maddon said. “We haven’t concluded anything yet.”
Russell is eligible to return on May 3, but president Theo Epstein said there’s no guarantee he’ll be activated then.
“I told him the other day that seven days does not necessarily get somebody ready for the season,” Epstein said. “If you don’t feel he’s ready to come up here and help us win, we’re gonna do the right thing for the organization.”
Cubs: Closer Brandon Morrow (offseason elbow surgery) was shut down over the weekend after not recovering well from a bullpen session. Although he still is undergoing tests, Epstein is optimistic the right-hander will begin throwing again soon. “Probably not in the matter of a week or two,” Epstein said, “but after that point he’ll get throwing again and get back on the mound.”
Dodgers: LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (2-1, 3.10 ERA) pitches the opener of a three-game home series against Pittsburgh on Friday night. RHP Chris Archer (1-1, 2.74) goes for the Pirates.
Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (1-3, 3.54) starts the opener of a three-game series at Arizona on Friday night. LHP Robbie Ray (0-1, 3.95) goes for the Diamondbacks.
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