MESA, Ariz. – Jon Lester’s so far beyond the first step of admitting there’s a problem, posting a self-deprecating message on his Twitter account to celebrate Major League Baseball’s labor peace: “While my efforts to eliminate pitchers from having to throw to 1B didn’t pass, I’m proud of the PA & Owners for coming together on a new CBA!”
Adding a third World Series ring to his collection won’t stop the questions for Lester, who sat through a press conference on Friday morning that lasted almost 19 minutes, talking about the yips and answering why he thinks throwing to young catcher Willson Contreras instead of Grandpa Rossy won’t be an issue.
“I’m not the one that keeps bringing it up, other than that joke,” Lester said. “I’ve been open with it since Day 1. It’s nothing to hide from. It’s there.”
David Ross is now walking around the Sloan Park complex as a special assistant in baseball operations, and part of his Mesa portfolio will be helping show Contreras the right buttons to push with Lester, what they learned as teammates on that 2013 Boston Red Sox championship team.
“Rossy and I just didn’t jump in and all of a sudden click,” Lester said. “It took a few starts for us to kind of hammer some things out – and him get used to what I like to do and vice versa. That’s all it really comes down to – just pitching, time on the mound, time behind the plate.
“Willson’s a smart kid and he cares and he wants to get better. He’s eager to please, so I think he has all the attributes to be a really good catcher in this league for a long time. I don’t think there’s going to be much of a learning curve.”
Beyond Lester’s Cy Young Award-level stuff, the Cubs used several mechanisms to help cover up the issue, from varying his times to the plate to disguising pitchouts to coordinating pick-off plays with Gold Glove first baseman Anthony Rizzo to putting together the best defensive unit in the majors.
“Willy’s probably got a little bit more arm than David actually has physically,” manager Joe Maddon said. “David was really good about feet and release – (and) I think Willson can also be that good.
“Realizing that Willson’s behind the plate, the thought process (for the other team) will be very similar to David behind the plate, regarding the ability to throw to first or throw to second. So I don’t perceive an edge for the other side based on that flip-flop.
“The biggest thing for me there is just purely the person, David’s knowledge, his experience, whatever, working with Jon. That’s going to be the part, to me, that we have to be aware of.
“When it comes down to controlling the running game and all that stuff, I feel pretty good about it.”
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At this time last year, Contreras had never before played above the Double-A level, part of an accelerated development that turned him into a key rookie contributor for a 103-win team and the obvious catcher of the future. With Lester signed to a $155 million contract through at least the 2020 season, the Cubs clearly want this to work with Contreras.
“Me and Rossy didn’t reinvent the wheel with anything special,” Lester said. “It’s a matter of having a game plan. And when the game plan isn’t going well or you’re not able to execute that – the ability to go to a Plan B is where I feel like Rossy and I kind of clicked.
“I saw Willy do that last year a lot with everybody else, so I don’t think it’s going to be any problems. He’s very talented and very willing to learn.
“He’s ready to go. I don’t think there’s going to be any issues at all.”
Except for that inexplicable mental block for one of the greatest big-game pitchers of his generation.
“It is what it is,” Lester said at least three times. “I’ll keep worrying about throwing it 60 feet, six inches.”