Maybe it’s an occupational hazard of being the Cubs’ $155 million pitcher.
But when manager Joe Maddon made a casual reference Monday night about Jon Lester having been “injured” in spring training, it immediately raised eyebrows about the health of the Cubs’ frontline left-hander.
Especially when the lefty himself expressed mixed feelings about his performance Monday following a four-walk, two-homer start that lasted just six innings.
“By injured I meant his spring training was interrupted by stiffness, soreness, dead-arm – whatever you want to call it,” Maddon clarified Tuesday. “I meant he was pushed back in spring training based on dead-arm, whatever you want to call it. He just wasn’t feeling.”
Lester, who understands the scrutiny of being the World Series-tested centerpiece for what the Cubs are trying to build, reiterated Tuesday that his so-called dead-arm period in spring training did not involve pain or injury – as is sometimes the case with pitchers who go through the vaguely defined malady.
What he and the Cubs also know is that they’re not doing anything close to what they plan this year without a healthy Lester doing things like he did when he stopped losing streaks each of the last two times he pitched.
“I missed a start and I’ve been fine. By no means was there something you would want to [define] as an `injury,’ “ he said. “I’ve known guys who actually do get soreness, and the soreness just doesn’t leave. And then I’ve also seen – like in my case — I didn’t get sore. It’s just like you throw the ball and there’s nothing there. You feel almost weak. Like you have no leverage, nothing behind it.”
The Cubs didn’t even bother with any precautionary medical tests, both Maddon and Lester said, though Lester didn’t pitch again in a Cactus League game (instead pitching minor-league intrasquad games for his final two spring starts).
Lester then got off to a slow start in April (0-2, 6.23 in four starts) before opening May with a pair of seven-inning starts (one combined earned run). On Monday he battled through his third consecutive win.
“I felt fine after the break [missing the spring start] and kind of looking back on it compared to where I am now, it kind of puts you behind the eight ball,” he said, “especially when you miss a start that late in the spring.
“Now I’m back to feeling normal, and I feel strong. I feel like I’m caught up on everything.”