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Jon Lester isn’t getting caught up in the details, just the feels

4 years agoTony Andracki

MESA, Ariz. – The results weren’t what Jon Lester wanted to see, but he’s not getting caught up in the details.

Not in spring training, when the games don’t count.

And certainly not in his very first spring training game of the year.

Still, that won’t immediately put Lester in a good mood after he surrendered 5 runs (3 earned) in an inning-plus of work Tuesday at Sloan Park where his outing ended in the first-ever pitching change in David Ross’ managerial career.

“Sounds about right, right?” Lester said, commenting on the symbolism of his former personal catcher strolling to the mound to take the southpaw out of the game. “It’s just like any other day that I didn’t pitch well – they have to come get the ball.”

Despite the results, Lester was encouraged by how he felt on the mound and believed he was just missing a bit with his command.

“I felt pretty strong today,” Lester said. “I don’t know what my velocity was at, but I feel like I’m in a better place right now physically than I [was] last year. Hopefully just continue to work on that angle and get some better results next time.”

Lester, who turned 36 last month, is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he posted the highest full-season ERA (4.46) of his big-league career and allowed the most hits (205) in the league. It was also the first time he failed to top 180 innings pitched since 2007, despite once again making more than 30 starts (31).

As last season came to a close, Lester reflected on his year and believed he got too caught up in changing his pitching style to reflect his aging left arm that has thrown nearly 2,700 big-league innings between the regular season and playoffs.

As he tries to adapt to the stuff he has now and how the league attacks him, Lester isn’t worried about pitch sequence or usage so much as his own aggressiveness.

“I think it’s just more of a feeling than it is actual pitches,” Lester said. “When you go in there and you’re already thinking about, ‘OK, I gotta throw a sinker down and away to this guy first pitch. If I get a strike or if I do this, then I have to do this,’ you’re kinda already defeated.

“I think it’s more of a mindset of being aggressive early. Obviously you’re trying to stay out of the middle of the plate regardless, but maybe just attack halves a little bit more early on, try to get that Strike 1 early on, show them that we’re on the plate and then I can expand. As opposed to expanding early and then you have to walk yourself back over the plate and that’s when you get hurt.

“With the mindset, one thing that keeps coming up that we keep talking about is just being aggressive.”

Lester is in the final guaranteed season of a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs (who hold a team option on the veteran lefty for 2021). In four of his five seasons on Chicago’s North Side, Lester has taken the ball for the Opening Day start – including each of the last three campaigns.

This year, that honor might go to Yu Darvish – who had a dominant second half of 2019 – or Kyle Hendricks. But again, Lester isn’t getting caught up in the details.

“Oh, I don’t care as long as I have a spot,” he said. “I’ll pitch wherever they tell me to pitch. Whatever day they tell me, I’ll be there and try to do the best I can.”

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