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.
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.”