The Yips? Cubs can’t hide Jon Lester’s throwing issue


The Yips? Cubs can’t hide Jon Lester’s throwing issue

Your move, Jon Lester.

Now that “The Yips” became a viral video, the Cubs can’t simply wave this off as a media creation or pretend like it never happened. Lester airmailing that throw to first base will have to be ingrained into any scouting report on the $155 million lefty.

“Any moment can become a negative situation if you permit it to,” manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday. “I know from the outside looking in, I get it. Listen, I’m not going to deny it. I understand what everybody’s talking about, of course. But now it’s up to us to make the adjustment and make it work.”

That’s why team president Theo Epstein believes this will become a nonissue. Lester – a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox – isn’t soft or defensive or unproven.

“He’s very much a grown man,” Epstein said. “He faces things head-on. He’s going to work. He’s got some things to work on.”

[RELATED: Cubs show they're bigger than just Lester in comeback win]

Lester admitted as much after Monday night’s 7-6 comeback victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field, joking it had been awhile since he had thrown over to first base (April 2013).

Moments later, Lester thought he saw Zack Cozart leaning one way and got a little overexcited, throwing a ball that wound up bouncing into the visiting bullpen, where Jorge Soler had hustled over from right field. Soler picked it up and made a strong throw to third base to nail Cozart.

Here’s how Bryan Price – the Reds manager who had been a well-respected pitching coach – broke it down:

“More than anything, I think we needed to see a throw over,” Price said. “You almost have to create an environment where he’s going to throw over. The thing that he’s done that really helps him is they have catchers that can throw. We all know that David Ross can throw and (Welington) Castillo really improved last year. I know Montero from my days in Arizona and he’s a good catch-and-throw guy.

“(Lester’s) been really competitive with his times to the plate. So now you go: ‘OK, well, he may not throw over to first base at all or very little. But when he goes to the plate and it’s a 1.15 or 1.17 (seconds), you better get a great jump because those guys will throw you out if you don’t.

“There may be a certain sense of not as much anxiety for the baserunners because he doesn’t throw over, (but) I don’t think like the league’s going to steal 100 bases against him. I don’t think that’s going to happen because he’s too quick to the plate.”

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Lester didn’t throw over to first base last year with the Red Sox or Oakland A’s and still had the best individual season of his career, earning his third All-Star selection and finishing at 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA across 219-plus innings.

“He didn’t do it once last year and that wasn’t exactly a secret and there was not an inordinate amount of steals,” Epstein said. “Would throwing to first base help control the running game? Of course. Is he going to face things head-on and find a way to control the running game? No doubt about it.

“He’s also got to do it in a manner that allows him to make good pitches to home plate while there’s a runner on first. That’s really important.

“He naturally does a good job of varying his looks and his times and is quick to home plate when he wants to be. Always, the best way is to get the hitter out. But he’s working on it.”

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1


Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast