I wish that more games were televised in the spring and that we could see more highlights, especially when most of the spring training exhibition games are during the time when most of us are at work. Thankfully, some of the opponents do have spring broadcasts and we are able to get peeks at highlights here and there.
One of the bigger storylines over the past couple days has involved Jon Lester. As the presumptive Opening Day starter, the five-man rotation (assuming the Cubs don’t start with a hybrid six-man rotation right away) will also have Lester start at the Wrigley Field home opener. This is not at all a problem for me given that the top four starters in the rotation are at least “number two” level starting pitchers, and can be reshuffled almost at will during the season given all the extra off days negotiated into the schedule. We know that Lester is a superb pitcher and has been worth his contract so far. But the storyline doesn’t involve Lester as a pitcher, but rather his issues with throwing to a base.
Case in point:
Now here’s the caveat: Lester is supposed to throw that in the dirt, because he’s had issues throwing to bases that make Matt Garza look like a Gold Glover. The idea is that Lester would just bounce the ball to Anthony Rizzo with the safe play, given Rizzo’s good hands, and avoid throwing the ball into the stands or the outfield.
Lester has done the bounce play before. They would rather have Rizzo play goalie than grow 3 feet. Less likely for extra bases etc
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) March 5, 2018
This isn’t a major deal with the coaching staff, either, as they are well aware of Lester’s issues. The Cubs and Lester did talk about the yips earlier:
Butterfield credits Lester with admitting it’s an issue and trying to improve himself. Some other highly paid stars might rest on their laurels and point to their overall performance instead of one flaw in their game.
It sounds like Lester will keep working on improving his ability to throw like a normal person to a base, but I can imagine it’s a lot harder than people think, even if some pitchers make it look easy. We know in the past couple seasons, Lester has worked with superb defensive catchers like David Ross and guys with good arms like Willson Contreras to manage the opponent’s running game. We also know that every now and then, he can bust out a gem like this:
For whatever reason, baserunners still are reluctant to just take off for the next base, even though they will try to pester Lester (ha) with their ludicrously big leads, knowing he will rarely throw over. I do get cranky with what should be a fundamental play being so difficult for a professional athlete, but if the Cubs are okay with Lester’s issues and can work around it, then it’s not that big of a deal after all.
Lester referred to it as the “Jordan-to-Pippen bounce pass,” but Butterfield said it wasn’t his line.
“I probably would’ve used McHale and Bird,” he said, referring to former Celtics stars Kevin McHale and Larry Bird.
He can continue to bounce it to Rizzo, and maybe he will occasionally surprise us (and his opponent, as it were) with a sweet play. With a ton of spring training left, maybe he can cure the yips gradually. But even if not, the Cubs seem to have this under control despite it looking oh so terrible sometimes.
Also: endorsed by a Hall of Famer…
— Scottie Pippen (@ScottiePippen) March 5, 2018