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Lester’s next start on minor-league back field after rough debut

Jon Lester

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs have pulled left-hander Jon Lester off the big-league schedule for his next start after a rough two-inning start in his spring debut Thursday that included the kind of fielding and throwing problems he experienced last season.

The three-time All-Star, whose infield throws Thursday became the storyline of that start, will make his next start in a minor-league game Tuesday in Mesa, manager Joe Maddon said, instead of the Cactus League game that day against the Padres at Peoria Stadium – the site of that first start against the Mariners.

Maddon said the decision was not made because of the fielding or throwing problems.

“You’d like to see some other guys against the varsity competition, and this way you can ensure that you can stretch him out comfortably,” said Maddon, who has Clayton Richard starting the big-league exhibition game Tuesday. “It wasn’t done to get work on anything like throwing to the bases. That wasn’t the motivation.”

Maddon suggested one possible reason for the decision is to “shield” a player from a potential regular-season opponent.

The Cubs also have ace Jake Arrieta scheduled to get a start on the minor-league side, but that’s a rare 7:05 p.m. game, 45 minutes away, the kind of game established veterans often are excused from playing.

“The other thing is to make sure the guy gets his work in a little bit more comfortably,” Maddon added of Lester, “and make sure that you can stretch him out, that you get those five innings or whatever you’re looking for.”

In his first start, Lester underhanded a ball back to the mound 45 feet to first for an out and later in the game short-armed a throw to second after a runner was caught too far off the bag. He also got “handcuffed” on a sharp hopper to his left that went off his glove, and he let a bunt roll to the first baseman that turned into a hit when nobody was left to cover first.

“I understand the question regarding, Lester, absolutely, but that’s not the reason,” Maddon said.

Lester works daily on fielding, he said after that start, and also revealed his lack of comfort fielding and throwing to bases dates to high school.

“The effort’s there. Obviously, the wherewithal is there. I know I have to be better at it,” he said. “And it will get better.”