By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — Like many other teams, the Cubs now have a different approach to spring training games in the latter half of March. Protecting starting pitchers by working on the nuances of their repertoire and limiting their workload is in vogue.
Case in point: Left-hander Jon Lester threw his 62-pitch session Thursday against Cubs minor leaguers instead of facing an opposing team.
The Chicago Cubs like many other teams, now have a different approach to late March spring training games.Protecting starting pitchers and working on nuances of their repertoire, certainly has become more in vogue. So why not have him throw against the Dodgers instead?
“The reason it is done is because it’s controllable,” manager Joe Maddon said of the industry trend. “This is purely about getting your work done in a controllable environment. Jon is the type of guy who understands competition in major league ballparks. You don’t worry about that component. This is purely about work. If the guy has a 25-pitch inning, you nod at the other manager. Everybody just changes at that point. This really helps because you do not want to push anybody to the point of injury.”
As Maddon points out, you can get an experienced pitcher quality time on the mound without an hour-long bus ride up and back to a visiting spring training complex. And against minor leaguers, the results aren’t as much of a concern.
On Thursday, Lester was working on his fastball command up in the zone. He was hit hard a few times in that such area, including on a homer. Lester isn’t bothered by the results as much as he is focused on the goal.
“Ups and downs are what really matter,” Maddon said. “So if you have that 75-pitch day and you want the pitcher to have five ups and downs, you can control that. Up and down and pitches thrown are all more controllable.”
Lester wants to build more arm strength and gain full command of his fastball.
“I am just trying not to die out there,” Lester joked of throwing fastballs to young hitters who know they were coming. “We just threw a lot of fastballs. They obviously knew that. My goal was to get my fastball back to the right location and angle. I missed a lot today. I just will continue to work on it.”
Lester will make two more starts in spring training before he gets the Opening Day assignment at St. Louis on April 2. He will build up to 90 pitches over the next two spring starts.
Lester is coming off a season in which he went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.