MESA, Ariz. – Jon Lester said he’s more comfortable in his second spring with the Cubs and plans to get even better after a year learning the National League.
But comfort and league familiarity might take a back seat in that process to how well he continues the modest improvement he made late last season in being able to throw to bases to keep runners honest.
Lester gave up a major-league-high 44 stolen bases last year as scouts all over the league said they emphasized big leads and aggressive running against him. The Brewers stole five bases against him in one late-season game.
“How important is it? Obviously, the game dictates that,” said manager Joe Maddon, who said Lester has looked good in early spring practice on it (similar to between starts work last year).
“But I’m not going to worry about it a whole lot. I think season in progress we did a nice job with it. Overall, it was not a huge factor, I don’t think, regarding our success or failures.”
David Ross will again be his personal catcher this year, in part because of Ross’ ability to mitigate that weakness with his big arm on back picks and disguised pitchouts.
With Ross set to retire after this season, this figures to be a key year for Lester to make enough progress to make runners respect his ability to throw to a base – something he went almost two seasons without doing until air-mailing his first attempt last year in a game against the Reds. He has four years left on his contract with the Cubs.
Between the Red Sox and Cubs, Ross has been Lester’s personal catcher for most of the last four seasons.
Lester, a three-time All-Star with two World Series rings, said he continues to work on multiple ways of getting better at this point in his career.
“There’s always ways to get better, a lot of different things within the game, managing the game a little bit differently,” he said. “I’ll just continue to try to get better every day at whatever it may be, whatever the task at hand is. That’s just who I am. I’m critical of myself. I’m harder on myself than anybody else can be.”
Said Maddon: “I think it’s something moving forward Jon really wants to keep hammering at to where he gets efficient at it again. It can only benefit him and us, of course.
“But I’m not going to make a big deal out of it.”