MESA, Ariz. – When asked about a friendship that’s now spanned multiple teams and job titles, both David Ross and Jon Lester gave, more or less, the same answer – but each in his own, unique way. Is it going to be weird having one of your good buddies taking you out of games? Could that present some awkward communication issues?
“I would say I’m almost too honest with him,” Ross said with a big grin. “If that can be a thing. He’s in a good place and I’m proud of him. I’m happy with where he's at. I still think he’s a special, top of the rotation pitcher.”
“I don't know if you guys know this, but he took me out of games plenty of times,” Lester added, without any grin whatsoever. “This won't be anything new. Is that weird? Yes. But he's my boss. When he decides the game is over for me, the game is over.”
Ross’ close relationship with the team’s core is well-trodden territory, but it’s not a stretch to say that there’s an elevated dynamic between the Cubs’ new manager and the Cubs’ oldest player. The two played together, and won rings together, in both Boston and Chicago; perhaps no one within the game of baseball knows Lester better – both as a pitcher and as a leader.
“What he’s done in the postseason, and seen in the markets he’s been in, his words and actions carry so much weight in the locker room,” Ross said. “I was there not long ago when it did, and it’s even more so now with the young guys we’ve got. He just sets a great example for those guys. The way he works, the consistency, he’s truly at work when he walks in the door.”
This will be Lester’s 15th year in the big leagues – the exact amount of time that Ross spent playing. As always, his goal for the season is to hit 200 innings. If he can, it’d be the first time since 2016 that he'll cross that threshold. It would also vest the 2021 option in Lester’s contract, guaranteeing him $25 million next season.
A lingering hamstring injury rendered Lester ineffective for much of last season, and after tweaking a few things in his offseason workout, he feels like he finally has requisite strength back in his lower body.
“I’m such a legs-oriented pitcher, so I think any time you miss an extended amount of time with a leg injury, I think it just took me a while – even though I felt fine – to get my base back,” he said. “Going into the offseason, I really tried to focus on that: my hips, and my back. Making sure I was strong in those areas.”
The dialogue certainly won’t always be this rosy with Ross, though Lester was adamant to point out that regardless of his manager -- be it Joe Maddon, Tito Francona, or John Farrell -- his professionalism within the boundaries of the game has never changed. It’ll be no different with his latest boss.
“Same as it’s always been, except now I get called out more in meetings,” Lester said, this time with the slightest hint of a smile.
“It’s Rossy. What you see is what you get.”