By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO, Ill. (CBS) — It’s called the “thing.” It’s a lack of belief in being able to throw to a base or another player. In this case, it’s all about Cubs new ace pitcher Jon Lester and his disdain for holding runners on base or throwing the ball after fielding it.
Lester isn’t the first player to deal with this lack of mental confidence. The Cubs have had Matt Garza and, to a certain extent, Edwin Jackson as pitchers who have had the “block” on throwing the ball anywhere except to the catcher. Now with the Brewers, Garza still eschews throwing to first most of the time. He has terrible problems throwing after fielding bunts and ground balls to the third base side of the field. Jackson has a tough time throwing to second and third base on force or potential double-play grounders to the mound.
As for Lester, he hasn’t attempted a pick-off throw since 2013.
“This really wasn’t a big issue until someone brought it up on TV,” Lester said about the commentary from the ESPN television broadcasters on Sunday. “Now, I am standing around answering questions about it. I had maybe 10 stolen bases off me last year. That is not a lot. I guess it must have been a slow news day and they wanted to talk about it. I think it’s blown out of proportion. I will continue to work on the things I need to and get ready to pitch.”
On one play Sunday in the season opener, Lester failed to throw to third base on a comeback grounder to him, choosing to throw to first base instead. The situation has been dealt with throughout his career, and the Cubs have helped Lester try to overcome the problem.
“I did it in spring (training), the biggest thing now is working on something different,” Lester said in reference to his new approach to throwing to a base or holding runners on first. “There is still that level of working on something different, every time you do that, it takes a little while. Everything is different, they have me working on something different. When you are working on a mechanical thing, there is always that doubt. When you get comfortable, there is not any doubt anymore.”
The Cubs aren’t that concerned about Lester. They do understand with the propensity to steal bases and play small ball in the National League that the Lester throwing situation can be exposed.
“I know in the American League last year, he did not throw to first base often,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Having said that, the stolen base percentage was neither high or good. I think this is being overplayed quite frankly. He will get better at it, his work is very diligent. I prefer he work on his pitching things as a priority and not make this an issue, because it’s not for me at all.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.