Cubs’ Jon Lester will get to the starting line when he’s good and ready
While other pitchers maintained ambitious throwing programs during baseball’s months-long shutdown, Lester kept things quiet and simple. Why? He doesn’t have any bullets to waste.
Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills — they’re stretched out and almost good to go for the start of the regular season July 24.
Then there’s Jon Lester. He’s taking his sweet time getting ready, thank you very much. Moseying along at his own pace.
And anyone who doesn’t like it might as well accept the same gentle suggestion the 36-year-old left-hander offered his critics during spring training in Arizona a few weeks before baseball was put on hold.
“Screw you guys,” he said then. “I think I did all right for myself.”
Technically, Lester was imagining what he might say to critics once his career is over. There’s a good chance this will be his final season with the Cubs — and possibly the end of the line, period — but a franchise-changing run that began in 2015 has a few miles left in it. An arm that has kept him alive in the game for all these years has a few bullets left in it.
It’s just that Lester, a veteran of 14 big-league seasons and winner of 190 games — third among active players — doesn’t have any bullets to waste.
While other Cubs pitchers maintained ambitious throwing programs during baseball’s monthslong shutdown, Lester kept things quiet and simple. That’s why he’s expected to throw only two innings Sunday in his first intrasquad-game appearance since training camp started at Wrigley Field.
“I know my body, and I know what I kind of need to do when I get here to get ready,” he said. “Two, yeah, I’m a little bit older. I didn’t want to ramp up at home and then turn around and almost have to sit again.”
Lester is coming off his worst season as a Cub, a 171⅔-inning slog in which he compiled a 4.46 ERA and 1.497 WHIP and allowed an NL-high 205 hits. Despite that, he managed to go 13-10. Winning is, it seems, sewn into the three-time World Series champion’s fabric.
His fastball has lost some ticks. His gas tank empties sooner than it used to. But the mulish, surly competitiveness is still there. The adherence to his between-starts routine is still admired and aspired to by teammates. If he makes 13 starts in a 60-game regular season? He’ll take his chances that he can still help the cause.
Maybe being a winner will be the very last Lester attribute to go.
And speaking of winning, anyone who thinks a championship in 2020 won’t mean what it usually does because of the abbreviated schedule probably would get the same gentle, three-word suggestion from Lester referred to earlier in this story.
“A trophy’s a trophy,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s 60 games. I mean, you still have to win. You still have to play good baseball. It’s not like they’re just handing them out at the end, like, ‘Oh, hey, here’s your participation trophy because you guys showed up this year.’ . . .
“At the end of the day, when you look back on this, yeah, people will talk about this season. But you still have to show up, you still have to play well and you still have to do your job in order to get that trophy, get that ring. And that’s still important to us and still important to me.”