Cubs waiting for breakthrough moment with Jon Lester’s throwing issue


Cubs waiting for breakthrough moment with Jon Lester’s throwing issue

Jon Lester admits he has a problem with throwing over to first base. It’s a weird mental block for a three-time All-Star with two World Series rings, one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

As long as Lester keeps performing like a frontline guy, the Cubs understand the issue can be minimized over the course of a 162-game season and a six-year contract. The yips didn’t stop Theo Epstein’s front office from giving Lester a $155 million megadeal.

But the stakes will be so high in a wild-card game or a short playoff series that how Lester controls the running game could be critical, something Cubs fans wind up talking about years later.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs still looking to add, but Phillies may not move Chase Utley]

So Lester, who has a no-nonsense personality and an obsession with routine, worked on his pickoff move before batting practice on Tuesday, preparing to face the Detroit Tigers the next night at Wrigley Field.

“That’s something we’ve been doing since spring training,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He does it all the time. It’s just something that we have to continue to do. Eventually, hopefully, at one point it’s going to be more comfortable for him. But in the meantime, just keep working at it.”

Lester apparently looks fine in an empty stadium, but…

“It’s the game – it’s so funny,” Maddon said. “That’s why when you talk about spring training and spring-training performances and people get all excited about it – it could not be any different.

“So, yeah, we have to keep working through it. I want to believe what you just saw out there – he’s going to do exactly the same thing in the game.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Lester went almost two full years in between pickoff moves until his second start for the Cubs on April 13 against the Cincinnati Reds. The lefty threw over twice and airmailed the second one.

Lester tried again last week and threw a ball that sailed wide past first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The Milwaukee Brewers stole five bases off Lester and still lost 9-2.

Again, Lester is having a very good season at 8-8 with a 3.21 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 145-plus innings. There are other ways to slow down the running game with personal catcher David Ross.

The Cubs are still waiting for a breakthrough moment with Lester.

“If he does it just once successfully like that, I think you’re going to see it happen more often,” Maddon said. “In the dugout, we talk about: Rossy, you take care of it until Jon’s comfortable doing that. So to this point, I think we’ve done a really good job with it.”

Cubs' Kris Bryant chimes in on testing concerns: 'We've got a big hill to climb'

Cubs' Kris Bryant chimes in on testing concerns: 'We've got a big hill to climb'

Kris Bryant announced last Tuesday that he’d landed in Chicago, holding his infant son in his arms on the flight over. That same day, he went through intake screening. He wasn’t scheduled to undergo his second round of COVID-19 testing until Sunday.

“I’m not trying to be insensitive by any means because there’s a lot of people out there struggling who need tests,” the Cubs third baseman said. “I genuinely want that to come across. But at the same time, MLB created this lab and did all this stuff to be able to run a season. I know there’s going to hiccups, but you just can’t hiccup with this.”

Bryant’s frustrations were echoed across the league on Monday. The Astros, Nationals and Cardinals all cancelled workouts Monday while waiting for test results. The Angels and Diamondbacks also navigated delays. The A’s postponed their first position player workouts on Sunday, also due to testing complications. 

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According to a league release, over 95 percent of intake testing had been “conducted, analyzed and shared with all 30 Clubs” by Monday afternoon. MLB expects the remaining tests to be completed by the end of the day. Those who had finished testing are scheduled to be tested every other day from here on out.

“Our plan required extensive delivery and shipping services, including proactive special accommodations to account for the holiday weekend,” MLb said in a statement. "The vast majority of those deliveries occurred without incident and allowed the protocols to function as planned.  Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays.  We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence.  We commend the affected Clubs that responded properly by cancelling workouts.”

The Cubs, who had not announced any positive COVID-19 tests as of Monday evening, haven’t faced the same testing scares as some other teams have. But manager David Ross said he voiced his concerns to the league, advocating for more frequent testing and a quicker return on the results.

“It’s definitely new for everybody,” Ross said, “so you want to try to give Major League Baseball a little bit of slack in some areas because we’re all needing some slack in some areas, but I think the protocols they have in place are for a reason and we need to get these tests done.”

MLB  converted a lab in Utah, which had previously handled Minor League Baseball drug tests, into a COVID-19 testing facility in preparation for the season. The 2020 Operations Manual that the players signed off on promises that players will be tested every other day during Summer Camp and the season. Albert Almora, like Bryant, said he went through intake testing on Tuesday and had his second round of testing Sunday.

“So, it was a big gap in between,” he said. “A lot of guys weren’t happy with that. … As careful as you may be, (the virus) an invisible thing that you have no control over even if you do all the right things. It’s tough. It’s something that we have to overcome, and hopefully it gets better. I know they’re all working their kinks out, but hopefully we can get this straight away and get the testing that we’re promised.”

Fixing the testing process, Almora predicted, would ease some players’ worries about playing this season. Players like Almora and Bryant are concerned that they could COVID-19 home to their families. Bryant said he’s not considering opting out, but he’d thought about it before.

“I wanted to play this year,” Bryant said, “because I felt that it would be safe and I would feel comfortable. But honestly, I don’t really feel that way, which is why I’m trying to keep my distance from everybody and wear my mask just so we can get this thing going.”

If MLB does reach Opening Day -- and the way Bryant sees it, it would be "foolish" to not include that "if" -- the regular season adds a host of new concerns.

"You’re traveling and you’re in an airplane, in your hotel, you’re getting room service, who knows what people are doing?" Bryant said. "Especially on the other teams too; you’ve got to rely on everybody in this whole thing. I think if we can’t nail the easy part, which is right now and just our players, we’ve got a big hill to climb."

Bryant, a former Cubs’ MLBPA representative, said he was “ashamed” of how publicly MLB restart negotiations played out. Now, he thinks so much time was spent on economic talks that health-and-safety discussions were rushed.

“It was a mess,” Bryant said. “And it still kind of is a mess, and hopefully we can find a way to repair that and fix things and get back on track.”



Cubs 2020 schedule: Season starts vs. Brewers at Wrigley, ends at White Sox

Cubs 2020 schedule: Season starts vs. Brewers at Wrigley, ends at White Sox

The Cubs announced their 2020 schedule on Monday, a 60-game spring beginning July 24.

The Cubs will play the Cardinals, Brewers, Reds and Pirates ten times each and will open the season at home on July 24 against Milwaukee. From there, they’ll hit the road for a four-game series against the Reds, whom they play seven times on the road. 

The Cubs also play the Pirates seven times on the road but host the Brewers and Cardinals seven times each. 

David Ross’ club only plays the Twins (Sept. 18-20 at Wrigley) and Tigers (Aug. 24-26 in Detroit) three times. They play the Royals four times, twice at home (Aug. 3-4) and twice on the road (Aug. 5-6).

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Because of the convenient travel, the Cubs and White Sox play six times — three on the North Side (Aug. 21-23) and three on the South Side to close the regular season (Sept. 25-27).

Check out the entire schedule: 

Day Date Opponent Time
Friday 7/24 vs. Milwaukee 6:10 PM
Saturday 7/25 vs. Milwaukee 12:05 PM
Sunday 7/26 vs. Milwaukee 1:20 PM
Monday 7/27 @ Cincinnati 5:40 PM
Tuesday 7/28 @ Cincinnati 5:40 PM
Wednesday 7/29 @ Cincinnati 5:40 PM
Thursday 7/30 @ Cincinnati 5:10 PM
Friday 7/31 vs. Pittsburgh 7:15 PM
Saturday 8/1 vs. Pittsburgh 7:15 PM
Sunday 8/2 vs. Pittsburgh 1:20 PM
Monday 8/3 vs. Kansas City 7:15 PM
Tuesday 8/4 vs. Kansas City 7:15 PM
Wednesday 8/5 @ Kansas City 7:05 PM
Thursday 8/6 @ Kansas City 6:15 PM
Friday 8/7 @ St. Louis 7:15 PM
Saturday 8/8 @ St. Louis 7:15 PM
Sunday 8/9 @ St. Louis 6:08 PM
Monday 8/10    
Tuesday 8/11 @ Cleveland 6:10 PM
Wednesday 8/12 @ Cleveland 5:10 PM
Thursday 8/13 vs. Milwaukee 3:05 PM
Friday 8/14 vs. Milwaukee 7:15 PM
Saturday 8/15 vs. Milwaukee 7:15 PM
Sunday 8/16 vs. Milwaukee 1:20 PM
Monday 8/17 vs. St. Louis 7:15 PM
Tuesday 8/18 vs. St. Louis 7:15 PM
Wednesday 8/19 vs. St. Louis 7:15 PM
Thursday 8/20    
Friday 8/21 vs. White Sox 7:15 PM
Saturday 8/22 vs. White Sox 7:15 PM
Sunday 8/23 vs. White Sox 1:20 PM
Monday 8/24 @ Detroit 6:10 PM
Tuesday 8/25 @ Detroit 6:10 PM
Wednesday 8/26 @ Detroit 6:10 PM
Thursday 8/27    
Friday 8/28 @ Cincinnati 6:10 PM
Saturday 8/29 @ Cincinnati 5:10 PM
Sunday 8/30 @ Cincinnati 12:10 PM
Monday 8/31    
Tuesday 9/1 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM
Wednesday 9/2 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM
Thursday 9/3 @ Pittsburgh 12:35 PM
Friday 9/4 vs. St. Louis 7:15 PM
Saturday 9/5 vs. St. Louis 7:15 PM
Sunday 9/6 vs. St. Louis 6:08 PM
Monday 9/7 vs. St. Louis 7:15 PM
Tuesday 9/8 vs. Cincinnati 7:15 PM
Wednesday 9/9 vs. Cincinnati 7:15 PM
Thursday 9/10 vs. Cincinnati 7:15 PM
Friday 9/11 @ Milwaukee 7:10 PM
Saturday 9/12 @ Milwaukee 6:10 PM
Sunday 9/13 @ Milwaukee 1:10 PM
Monday 9/14    
Tuesday 9/15 vs. Cleveland 7:15 PM
Wednesday 9/16 vs. Cleveland 7:15 PM
Thursday 9/17    
Friday 9/18 vs. Minnesota 7:15 PM
Saturday 9/19 vs. Minnesota 7:15 PM
Sunday 9/20 vs. Minnesota 1:20 PM
Monday 9/21 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM
Tuesday 9/22 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM
Wednesday 9/23 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM
Thursday 9/24 @ Pittsburgh 6:05 PM
Friday 9/25 @ White Sox 7:10 PM
Saturday 9/26 @ White Sox 6:10 PM
Sunday 9/27 @ White Sox 2:10 PM