MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Chicago Cubs ace Jon Lester is trying a new approach when it comes to his biggest weakness.
One bounce at a time.
Lester is working with new third base coach Brian Butterfield on bouncing his throw to the bases when he has to make a play on defense. He got a chance to use the technique during Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Arizona in spring training, and the ball skipped past minor league first baseman Efren Navarro for an error.
Lester has struggled with throwing to bases for years, but the three-time World Series winner remains one of the game’s most effective pitchers. The 34-year-old left-hander is slated to start on opening day on March 29 at Miami.
“It’s just a different thing for him,” Butterfield said Monday. “Throwing a ball to a base for him in a quiet setting is far different than when he’s got to cock his arm in a game setting. You know, that’s understandable, just because pitchers for the most part, it’s probably a little bit more difficult for them to throw to the bases because they’ve made a living out of long arm action.
“Infielders, we try to shorten their backswing when they throw to the bases to become more accurate, so they’re a little bit more in tune throwing to the bases. Outfielders have trouble throwing batting practice when they become coaches because they’ve had that long arm swing.”
Lester and Butterfield have been working on the bounce throw on the backfields of Chicago’s spring training complex. They also tinkered with the concept while the two were in Boston.
On the play that resulted in the error, Lester knocked down David Peralta’s comebacker in the third inning before bouncing the throw from right in front of the mound. Butterfield said they hadn’t practiced the play from that particular spot.
“We’ve worked the skip pass on the third base side, where there’s a little bit more distance,” he said, “and we’ve also worked it on the first base side, where he can get his body turned around and just short arm stroke, almost like throwing a dart and getting that skip. We’ve also worked the comebacker throwing the ball to second base with a skip.”
Lester also was working with Navarro instead of regular first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
If the concept is successful, it would give manager Joe Maddon more options when it comes to aligning his defense in certain situations. It also would make life easier on Rizzo, third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras while Lester is on the mound.
“I really don’t even want him to worry about it, I really don’t,” Maddon said. “They’re handling it. Like I said, that’s what we wanted to do is what he did yesterday. It’s going to work. It works.”