(SportsNetwork.com) - Jon Lester's tenure with the Chicago Cubs hasn't gotten off to the best of starts, but manager Joe Maddon thinks the veteran hurler is ready to turn a corner.
Lester makes a fourth attempt at his first win of the season on Friday night when the Cubs begin a three-game set with the Cincinnati Reds.
Signed to a six-year, $155 million deal this past offseason, Lester is off to an 0-2 start with a 6.89 earned run average through three outings. His most recent appearance resulted in a 5-2 loss to San Diego on Sunday, though he was only charged with three runs on six hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings.
The 31-year-old lefty had faced the Reds for the first time in his career one start earlier and was hammered for six runs and 10 hits over six innings of a no-decision on April 13, a game won by the Cubs 7-6.
"I thought he made a lot of progress today," Maddon said after Lester's outing against the Padres. "I think next time out, you should see him beginning to put it all together."
Reds starter Mike Leake appeared to put things together in his last outing, but still comes into this start winless.
Leake is 0-1 through three starts, but with a solid 3.92 ERA. His best outing of the campaign came last time out, but also was his first loss as he yielded two runs over eight innings of a 2-1 setback in St. Louis on Sunday. The righty was charged with four hits and did not walk a batter.
"You're not going to score runs every day," said Leake. "Gotta keep games close. Unfortunately it was a 2-1 game."
The 27-year-old Leake faced Lester and the Cubs on April 13 and did not get a decision as well, charged with four runs over seven innings. He served up homers to Jorge Soler and Chris Coghlan, and is 8-2 lifetime versus Chicago with a 3.15 ERA in 16 meetings.
Both the Cubs and Reds will be aiming to rebound tonight as Chicago lost a 5-4 decision to Pittsburgh on Thursday, while Cincinnati was topped 4-2 by Milwaukee.
The Cubs ended up splitting their four-game set with the Pirates as they failed to hold a three-run lead yesterday. Starter Kyle Hendricks allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings.
"We have to start putting up some lower numbers overall," Hendricks said of the Cubs starting corps. "It'll come. It's still early and we're still getting that feel."
Chicago second baseman Addison Russell drove in his first career run, while Kris Bryant made his first career start in center field after playing six straight at third base. He did go 0-for-3 with an RBI, making the switch to the outfield because Dexter Fowler was out due to tightness in his right groin, though available to pinch-hit.
The Reds, meanwhile, had a chance at a four-game sweep of the Brewers before dropping the finale. Marlon Byrd hit his first homer of the season in defeat, a two-run shot.
Reliever Kevin Gregg was charged with the deciding run over his 1 1/3 innings, while starter Homer Bailey worked the first 5 2/3 frames and allowed seven hits and a pair of runs.
"I certainly think we can't just clean house because of playing 16 games where we've struggled a bit out of that role," Reds manager Bryan Price said of his bullpen. "That said, we've got to pick it up, we've got to be better. We have to come in throwing strikes and challenging the opponents and being more efficient."
The Cubs took two of three at home over the Reds from March 13-15 and have won seven of the past 10 meetings.