Jon Lester has always had problems throwing to first base, but he wants Cubs fans to know that he’s working on it.
As the majority of the Cubs traveled to Peoria, Arizona on Tuesday to play the San Diego Padres, Lester stayed in Mesa to pitch a simulated game, a move not uncommon in spring training. It allows the guys who already know they’re in the rotation to pitch in a controlled environment and work on a few things. Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is expected to do the same thing on Saturday as his teammates play the Indians in Goodyear.
As the fifth inning started in Lester’s simulated game, a runner was put on first base and the two-time World Series champion knew exactly what was going on.
“Once they [put the runner there], I knew what we were going to try to work on, and I threw the ball over, and it got away from me, and I put him back on first base. I might as well take the opportunity to work on it in a setting like this.”
Lester knows that he still has a lot of work to do in this department and certainly isn’t trying to deny that this has always been an issue for him.
“This isn’t something you can hide and run from it. It’s out there. Everyone knows. It’s something that I continually trying to tackle every day and get better at. That’s all I can do and hopefully my teammates can believe I’m putting my work in every day and getting better at and making (catcher) David Ross and my teammates’ jobs easier.”
Over the course of two innings, Lester made three errant throws on pickoff attempts and also bounced a ball to second base on a comebacker to the mound, although catcher David Ross had yelled “Four!” to let Lester know that he needed to come home with the ball instead. Lester says that fielding has always been an issue for him.
“Throwing to bases and fielding my position has been my downfall since I was a kid. I just wasn’t good at fielding my position.”
However, Lester was able to pick off recently-optioned Dan Vogelbach by trying a new technique. Instead of striding towards first, Lester is simply stepping off of the rubber and making the quick throw, which is something that he feels pretty good about, although he certainly realizes that things aren’t going to change overnight.
“It’s still a work in progress. It’s an everyday thing for me, something I’ll continue to work on. There were some negatives today, but that wasn’t the idea going in. We didn’t talk about trying different things on the mound.
“That was me just improvising and seeing how far I can take it and work on that. Spring training is a time I can’t worry about mistakes. I got to work on the things I need to work on. If I do throw a ball down the (right field) line, maybe I went too far with what we’re trying to work on. So right now there are a lot of positives.”
Last year, opposing runners stole 44 bases on Jon Lester, which was the most allowed by any pitcher in baseball. Lester is hoping that the things he continues to work on will knock that rate down a bit. All he wants to do is keep improving.
“If we try to cut what happened last year in half, I probably couldn’t be more pleased. That’s my goal, to work on it and make my job easier instead of pitching with guys on second and (instead) pitch with guys at first and getting that ground ball double play because our defense is plenty good enough to save a lot of outs for us that way.”
Cubs fans will just have to wait and see if all of this hard work pays off. Jon Lester is expected to be in the number two spot in the starting rotation, behind only Jake Arrieta, which would mean that Jon Lester’s season debut would come on Tuesday, April 5 against the Angels.