HOUSTON — Cubs left-hander Jon Lester delivered the type of performance Friday night that rendered Chicago's bullpen secondary in the story of a 2-0 victory, but it was impossible to ignore the combined contributions of Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman.
Rondon and Chapman blitzed the Astros (74-67) with a steady diet of blistering fastballs in the eighth and ninth innings, combining for three strikeouts while not allowing a baserunner in preserving the victory for Lester. The Cubs (90-50) have thrived on exceptional starting pitching all season, but the addition of Chapman to their reconfigured bullpen presents an additional level of hype for the postseason.
Chicago continues its three-game series Saturday in Houston.
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Of the 14 pitches Rondon threw in the eighth inning Friday, nine were fastballs. His average velocity on those four-seam heaters was 97.2 miles per hour, a positive sign in his second appearance since returning from the 15-day disabled list Tuesday.
Chapman entered in the ninth and needed only six pitches to tear through the heart of the Astros' order. His average velocity on those six pitches was 101.4 miles per hour.
“They both had plenty of rest and came out throwing,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It was good to see.
“Hector, that's his second time back so I didn't know exactly what to expect right there honestly. I did not expect that pinpoint control with that velocity. It was over the top, plus an outstanding slider too.”
Right-hander John Lackey (9-7, 3.36 ERA) makes his 26th start for the Cubs on Saturday. In his previous outing, he allowed two runs on one hit over five innings in a 3-2 victory over San Francisco. It was his first start since Aug. 14 after being placed on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain. Lackey is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA over his last five starts.
In four career starts against the Astros, Lackey is 2-1 with a 4.37 ERA. He last faced Houston in 2014 and has a 3.00 ERA in two career starts at Minute Maid Park.
Right-hander Collin McHugh (9-10, 4.96 ERA) makes his first career start and his second appearance against the Cubs on Saturday. The Astros have won each of his last four starts and are 17-11 in games McHugh has started this season.
The Astros learned Friday that left-hander Dallas Keuchel will not pitch in the series. Keuchel, sidelined by left shoulder inflammation, will miss a third turn in the rotation this weekend and is scheduled to begin a throwing programon Monday at the earliest.
Upon returning to Houston earlier this week, Keuchel discovered that there is no structural damage in his shoulder. He remains hopeful of returning to a rotation already missing right-hander Lance McCullers (right elbow discomfort).
“There's really no timetable set for a return but I firmly believe we're going to be still in the playoff hunt so hopefully I can help the guys out here in a week or so,” Keuchel said.
“It was really difficult to sit out the first initial days. I don't like to miss any time whether I'm feeling good or not. But I knew it was something I couldn't push through and it was more detrimental to the team than to let somebody else step in and fill my shoes.”