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Cubs got reminder in L.A.: They have ‘year or so’ to fix Jon Lester’s yips

LOS ANGELES – If the Cubs weren’t sure before Saturday night, they got a reminder during Jon Lester’s loss to the Dodgers of what their deadline is for fixing his now-famous issues with throwing to bases and preventing opponents from binge-stealing against him.

It’s the end of next season, when David Ross, Lester’s personal catcher, gets to the end of his two-year deal with the Cubs.

Maddon and the Cubs saw again Saturday what life without Ross could look like every fifth day if Lester can’t cure his yips-like symptoms.

“To this point I thought we’ve done a pretty good job of dealing with it. Just last night it hurt us a little bit,” Maddon said. “But we’ll get David back, and we’ll get it all straightened out.”

Lester’s throwing problems are nothing new. Maddon’s Rays were well aware as division opponents, “but you still got to hit the guy.”

With Lester as the $155 million centerpiece of a new-look Cubs team this year, ESPN may have exacerbated the issue by spotlighting the problem early in April – noting he hadn’t attempted a throw to hold a runner in nearly two years.

By the time Lester tried back-to-back throws in his second start, he had his first airmail error, and the story was off and running – along with base runners across the National League. He didn’t try another for four months — and committed another error with that one.

Ross and Lester – who also were paired for nearly two seasons in Boston – have worked out a system of signs and techniques for controlling the running game, including back picks and disguised pitchouts.

But with Ross on Family Medical Emergency leave this week, Miguel Montero got the assignment with Lester Saturday and struggled to contain the Dodgers’ runners and even at times to communicate with his pitcher and bench.

Montero skipped a throw to second trying to rush to get Scott Van Slyke on a second-inning steal. He had little chance on Jose Peraza stealing third in the third inning – which allowed him to score on an infield hit.

And trying to rush again in the fourth with Van Slyke cruising into third, Montero’s mitt found Carl Crawford’s bat path for a catcher’s interference call.

“There’s not much I can do,” Montero said. “When you know they’re going to go, and you still have to make a perfect throw to maybe throw the guy out, as a catcher you just try to do your best and just try to be as quick as possible.

“Other than that there’s not much I can do.”

Lester had two other starts this season with Montero behind the plate because Ross wasn’t available (Montero left one in the third because of an injury). But Lester mitigated the issue in one by taking a no-hitter into the seventh of an eventual loss to St. Louis, and White Sox ace Chris Sale rendered the issue moot in the other by throttling the Cubs.

So what happens if Ross, 38, goes on the DL for any length of time? Or after his contract expires?

“Right now I’m just more concerned with short-term,” Maddon said. “The things that you can control right now, that’s what I want us to be able to do.”

For now it makes Lester a $160 million pitcher, counting Ross’ deal.

“Long-term,” Maddon said, “you talk about spring trainings and conversations and different work that you can do to hopefully get the issue resolved over the next year or so. For right now, let’s get David back there with him and just play it from there.”