Pickoff could pay dividends for Cubs’ Lester

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Jon Lester of the Cubs prepares to throw a pitch during Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Cardinals. Lester picked off Tommy Pham at first base to end the fifth inning.

As he took a big lead at first base, Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham practically dared Cubs left-hander Jon Lester to pick him off.

To almost everyone’s surprise, including Pham’s, Lester accommodated. He flicked a throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who tagged out Pham to end the fifth inning Saturday.

It was Lester’s first pickoff since 2015 and only his third since 2012.

For years Lester has battled the ‘‘yips,’’ a mental block that prevents him from throwing accurately to first. He went through the entire 2014 season with the Red Sox and Athletics without even trying a pickoff throw.

Manager Joe Maddon said Lester’s successful move against the Cardinals might pay dividends later in the season.

‘‘It’s all about the mind,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘If you believe you can do it, you can do it. It’s that simple. I know the other teams will definitely jot that down. It’s something that needs to be reckoned with.

‘‘However, we’ve done a nice job controlling the running game with him all year. There’s a lot been made of it. I’ve rather enjoyed reading about it, but he’s done a great job. He’s probably our quickest guy to the plate.’’

Lester shrugged off questions about the pickoff move and what he thought about foes taking big leads.

‘‘Whatever,’’ Lester said. ‘‘Just try and get outs.’’

Home cooking

Lester overcame a rocky first inning to limit the Cardinals to three runs and six hits in six innings.

Although he got a no-decision, Lester turned in his sixth quality start in seven outings this season at Wrigley Field. He is 0-3 with a 7.11 ERA and no quality starts in five outings on the road.

‘‘I think everybody feels more comfortable at home than they do on the road,’’ Lester said. ‘‘Regardless of how many times you’ve been to the other stadiums or you haven’t, you just feel comfortable here. You’ve got your routine. You hop in your own car and drive to the field when you want to.

‘‘It’s kind of a more controlled setting, whereas on the road you have other things you have to worry about. I think we all, from top to bottom, want to play well at home.’’

Odd man out

Javy Baez started at shortstop and hit a home run in place of Addison Russell, who watched most of the game from the bench before grounding out as a pinch hitter in the eighth.

Russell is hitting .140 (12-for-86) in his last 29 games, and his season average has plummeted to .211.

Maddon said Baez’s defensive versatility has enabled him to sit Russell during his slump.

‘‘It’s a unique opportunity we have by having two such good shortstops being that young,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘It’s not a day off. I’m rotating these guys a little bit right now to keep them fresh.

‘‘Once you see Addison get back on track, then you’re going to see him play a lot more often.’’

Follow me on Twitter @tcmusick.


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