Jon Lester laughed postgame when asked where he is now relative to his own expectations.
“I stink,” Lester said late Monday night inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon.
This obviously couldn’t top Carlos Zambrano’s “we stinks” indictment of the 2011 Cubs. The alarm bells rang when manager Joe Maddon sat in the same chair after that 4-3 victory over the New York Mets and answered a similar question about Lester.
“He was injured in spring training,” Maddon said.
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Wait, what? The Cubs had described Lester’s timeout in spring training as a “dead arm.” Maddon clarified that throwaway line on Tuesday: “By injured, I meant his spring training was interrupted by stiffness, soreness, dead arm, whatever you want to call it.”
Both Maddon and Lester confirmed the $155 million lefty didn’t need to get any precautionary tests in Arizona. But any ache or pain will be magnified for someone in the first season of what’s supposed to be a franchise-changing six-year megadeal.
“I don’t get sore,” Lester explained. “It’s just like you throw a ball and there’s just nothing there. You feel almost weak, like you have no leverage, nothing behind it.”
Lester is meticulous about his routine, and that interruption helps explain why he endured such a disappointing April (0-2, 6.23 ERA). He’s getting into a groove now in May (3-0, 1.80 ERA), and that should take pressure off a young lineup and give a battered bullpen a much-needed break.
“My expectations are more than anybody could put on me,” Lester said. “The biggest thing is: We won. So you look at that, everything’s fine. We obviously didn’t play very well on this road trip, and coming home, the bleachers open for the first time, and everybody’s excited, and you want to get off on the right foot.
“But as far as expectations, that’s a whole ‘nother day with a whole ‘nother sit-down and a whole ‘nother hour of time that not a lot of us have.
“I’m a perfectionist. I want to be perfect all the time. And obviously that’s not going to happen.”
Forget perfection. The Cubs will settle for the Lester who’s made 30-plus starts for seven consecutive years, putting up at least 200 innings in six of those seven seasons.
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“I felt fine after the break (in spring training),” Lester said. “Looking back on it now — to where I’m at now — it kind of puts you behind the eight ball, especially when you miss a start that late in spring.
“Now, I’m back to how I feel (normally). I feel strong. I feel like I’m caught up on everything.”
Lester — a big-game pitcher who helped the Boston Red Sox win two World Series titles — will ultimately be judged when/if the Cubs get deep into October. If this is going to be anything more than a .500 team, the sense of momentum will begin with the No. 1 starter.
“Jon’s just fine,” Maddon said. “You always like to have people peak at the appropriate moment. So every time out, I’ve seen him a little bit better. Just give him a little bit more time as he builds into this thing. I like what I’m seeing.”