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MESA, Ariz. — For the third time in four seasons, Chicago Cubs lefty Jon Lester will start on Opening Day as manager Joe Maddon announced the decision before Lester’s spring debut on Tuesday.

“Pretty cool,” Lester said after pitching 1.2 innings against the White Sox. “Anytime the manager picks you to do that it’s a huge honor. I’m excited. It’s probably the earliest I’ve ever been told.”

Like the rest of the team, Lester feels refreshed after a little bit longer offseason than last year, when the Cubs broke a 108-year championship drought. A season removed from the “hangover” he says the team is coming together quickly.

“Guys are opening up a little more,” Lester said. “It’s our fourth year together. I feel like I’ve gotten older and they’ve grown up.”

He might be a year older, but Lester doesn’t think he’s over the hill — even after a down year in 2017. He spent time on the disabled list, fell short of 200 innings and compiled a 4.33 ERA. Most of it can be chalked up to expending so much energy on winning the World Series in 2016.

“Last year was ‘Hey, we need to slow down, we need to be ready more or less for May than April,'” Lester stated. “For a few of us, that put us behind the eight ball. I don’t think we realized that until the end of the year.”

Lester admits to having a little “chip on his shoulder” as 2018 kicks off. More than anything, he wants that 200 innings back. He missed out on that goal for just the second time in the past 11 seasons.

“Starters need to be more accountable and go deeper into games,” Lester opined. “I don’t think out of a No.1 or No. 2 guy, that 170 or 180 innings is enough. … I think it’s terrible for the game. I think it puts too much pressure on your bullpen. They’re on call every night. I feel like there is a time and a place (for that). The playoffs are a different animal.

“The season is too long to rely on your starters to go five, maybe six. There are too many outs for those guys to get to have them fresh and ready to go.”

As for being named Opening Day starter, it wasn’t a hard decision for Maddon, who admitted early-season matchups were part of the equation. By pitching Opening Day against the Miami Marlins, Lester will miss the run-happy Milwaukee Brewers in the season’s third series of the year. More than anything, Maddon simply believes in his workhorse and the leadership he’s already shown in camp.

“There is an organic change in him that I’m loving,” Maddon said. “He’s feeling this leadership thing but he’s not forcing it whatsoever. … You grow into this spot and people want to follow you.”

When told of Maddon’s comments, Lester downplayed his effect and simply focused on his game. He thinks a rebound season is in order.

“I like my odds to have another good year,” Lester said.

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New York Yankees trade relievers Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson to Cincinnati Reds

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NEW YORK — The New York Yankees traded relievers Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson to the Cincinnati Reds late Tuesday night for a player to be named.

The move could signal the Yankees are pursuing a big addition to their bullpen and were looking to create room.

The deal was announced hours after New York won 4-3 at Tampa Bay, and Cincinnati finished off a 7-4 road victory over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.

The Yankees also made a bullpen move Monday, acquiring reliever Clay Holmes from the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor league infielders Hoy Park and Diego Castillo.

The 29-year-old Cessa went 3-1 with a 2.82 ERA in 29 relief appearances for the Yankees this season.

Wilson, 33, was 1-1 with a 7.50 ERA in 21 outings. The left-hander missed a combined 34 games during two stints on the injured list with left shoulder inflammation (March 29 to April 9) and a strained right hamstring (May 29 to June 30). He signed a one-year contract in February with a player option for 2022.

New York is nine games behind AL East-leading Boston and seven back of the second-place Rays, but much closer in the hunt for the second AL wild card.

Cincinnati is in second place in the NL Central, seven games behind Milwaukee, and also is chasing San Diego for the second NL wild card.

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Sources — Seattle Mariners finalizing deal for Tyler Anderson of Pittsburgh Pirates

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The Seattle Mariners, hours after trading their best reliever, are finalizing a deal to acquire left-handed starter Tyler Anderson from the Pittsburgh Pirates, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Tuesday night.

It wasn’t immediately clear who the Pirates were getting in return.

Pittsburgh thought it had a deal for Anderson with the Philadelphia Phillies earlier Tuesday, but it fell through on medical review, sources said.

Seattle instead moved to acquire the 31-year-old Anderson, who is 5-8 with a 4.35 ERA this season. He’s set to become a free agent after the season.

Anderson spent his first four big league seasons with the Colorado Rockies before joining the San Francisco Giants as a free agent last season and then the Pirates this year. He’s gone at least five innings in each of his 18 starts in 2021.

Earlier Tuesday, Seattle traded right-hander Kendall Graveman to the Houston Astros as part of a four-player deal that baffled some considering the Mariners are just one game behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL wild-card race.

But Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto hinted more moves could be on the way — which turned out true with the team nearing the Anderson deal.

“It probably doesn’t as a standalone, but it’s part of a context that’s going to be an ongoing story over the next couple of days” as the trade deadline nears, Dipoto said when asked why the team traded Graveman.

“What comes next could be as early as tonight or tomorrow because we do plan on being active.”

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Trea Turner leaves Washington Nationals’ game after testing positive for COVID-19

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Washington Nationals All-Star shortstop Trea Turner has tested positive for COVID-19, leading him to exit the team’s game against the Phillies in Philadelphia in the first inning Tuesday night.

Turner was pulled after scoring on Josh Bell‘s home run in the top of the first. Gerardo Parra replaced him in the lineup.

The timeline for Turner’s positive result suggests his test was taken Monday.

He’s the second prominent player to test positive Tuesday; Milwaukee Brewers slugger Christian Yelich also did so and is experiencing mild symptoms despite being vaccinated. It wasn’t immediately known if Turner is vaccinated, too.

Turner is hitting .322 with 21 stolen bases this season. His name has been mentioned in trade rumors as the Nationals (45-54 entering Tuesday) have fallen out of the playoff race.

He’ll now be out at least 10 days, which would take him past Friday’s trade deadline.

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