Jon Lester finally threw to first base in a game to hold a runner Monday night at Wrigley Field. It was the first time in two years.
“It actually felt really good to throw a ball over to first base. It’s been a while,” said Lester, who has been answering questions about his so-called “yips” since his season-opening start.
Then one pitch later, he threw over again – way over – and the ball sailed down the right field line. That’s where right-fielder Jorge Soler picked it up and threw out Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart trying to go all the way to third.
“The second one, I got a little excited. I looked over there and the guy was going the other direction,” Lester said. “And when you’re not used to doing stuff like that, I just got a little overexcited and tried to throw the ball a little bit too soon.”
All of which was the good news on this night for the Cubs’ $155 million anchor of their rebuilt rotation.
Whether the throws to the bases are in his head, he said he feels better about the work he’s been doing on it.
But whether the throws to the bases are in his head doesn’t matter nearly as much as the throws to the plate that have been his undoing in two starts as a Cub.
After failing to get out of the fifth inning in his season-opening loss to the Cardinals, Lester got hit hard in a three-run first by the Reds, then after settling down for four innings, gave up three more in the sixth.
The Cubs came back to win 7-6 in the 10th, with Soler hitting a pair of homers along the way (including a tying shot in the eighth).
But the one guy on this year’s team that was supposed to be the rock, the leader, the most reliable pitcher on the staff has a 7.84 ERA that is not skewed or deceptive.
“A lot of work to be done,” he said.
Lester, whose spring training was interrupted by a dead-arm skipped start, is just now reaching a work level that would normally equate to a full spring load, manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s going to be fine,” he added.
Team president Theo Epstein mentioned the same issue when talking about Lester before the game, and added the fact he was starting Monday on his eighth day since his first start.
Lester’s also has been a relatively slow starter in his career (albeit, usually not this slow). He has a losing record in his career in April (13-14), and his career ERA for April and May combined is 4.04 – compared to 3.40 the rest of the season.
But Lester, who says he’s fine physically, isn’t willing to accept any of the rationales.
“Obviously, I haven’t hit my stride yet,” he said, “but I don’t want to use anything as a crutch by any means. Things have to be better.
“When you have four [relievers] going out there doing their jobs, when you’re the loose end of the chain, that’s never good.
“Back to work tomorrow, and a lot of things to work on, a lot of things to improve on, and I’ll get back to being the front end of that chain instead of the back end and letting these guys down. It’ll be better.”
He might even throw to first again.
“That’s one of them,” he said. “We’ll keep working on it and keep making improvements.”