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Bunt on Jon Lester to beat him? Go ahead and try, say Cubs

Jon Lester has kept a lid on his fielding and throwing issues this season in large part by keeping guys off the bases (0.97 WHIP)

ATLANTA – If that first time through the Phillies order the other day is a sign of what Jon Lester might be able to expect from teams this summer, the big left-hander and his manager seem to share the same sentiment: Bring it on.

On Monday, two of the first seven batters Lester faced, both speed guys, bunted the ball towards the mound to try to force the fielding-challenged pitcher to make the out.

Leadoff man Cesar Hernandez didn’t get the ball far enough, and catcher David Ross pounced on the ball and made the play.

Then with a runner on and two out in the second, Peter Bourjos put one in front of the mound that Lester started for, then suddenly backed off – with Ross too far away for anyone to have a play.

Lester retired the next batter – and in fact has recorded 51 outs since the last run he allowed.

But could he be susceptible to a repeated bunt approach, especially by a younger, athletic lineup like Sunday’s opponent, the Braves, might have? Teams have known for years he has significant trouble throwing to bases.

“It’s easier said than done,” said Lester, who works closely with Ross to control the running and bunting game – with the help of strong corner infield play.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a system. Everybody’s got their places they go and things they do, and then we just kind of react,” he said. “When we do have a pitcher up, when we do have bunt plays on, [Anthony Rizzo] is so good at coming in on the ball that I usually just get out of the way and let those guys do their thing.”

That doesn’t work of the bunt is firm enough and straight back toward the mound.

“Everybody says bunt [on Lester], but just go down the list of the bunters in the league who are good bunters,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s the lost art. I mean, the guy’s throwing 94 with a cutter, on your fingertips. It’s not that easy.”

And if it starts to become a trend?

“We’ll just react to it, and make adjustments as we go,” Lester (7-3 with a 2.06 ERA) said. “It’s not something that really is too much of a concern going into a start for me.”