A lot has been made in recent years of Jon Lester’s troubles throwing a baseball anywhere other than to home plate. It has been almost painful to watch a ground ball hit back to the mound while number 34 has been on the bump for the Cubs over the past three years. In 2015, fans would cringe, hide their eyes, and pray that the ball wouldn’t end up down the right field line after leaving Lester’s hand. In addition, pickoff throws from Lester to first were basically non-existent. However, in the time since Lester’s first year anchoring the Cubs rotation, the team has been able to improvise and work around the big lefthander’s mental block.
The Cubs have taken a team approach to holding runners close to the bag when Lester is on the mound. Catchers such as David Ross, Miguel Montero, Willson Contreras, Rene Rivera, and Alex Avila have all thrown to the bases very liberally when Lester is pitching in an attempt to try to control the running game. Also, Lester has taken several different approaches to getting the ball to first base after fielding a comebacker. He has employed tactics such as under handing, bouncing the ball, and even throwing his entire glove (with the ball still in it) to first base in order to record an out.
This year, it appears that the Cubs have settled on a bounce pass of sorts, from Lester to Rizzo, when number 34 needs to get the ball to first base. Lester has even referred to it as the Jordan to Pippen bounce pass. Whether this approach turns out to be more successful than previous ones is yet to be seen. However, one thing is abundantly clear. The Cubs are willing to work within the parameters of what Jon Lester can do. While everyone would prefer that Lester just throw the ball on a line to the first baseman, that is obviously not going to happen. Just like numerous athletes before him, such as Steve Blass, Chuck Knoblauch, Rick Ankiel, Sergio Garcia, and Charles Barkley, Jon Lester has the yips. Despite how much that Lester, his teammates, or the fans might want him to be able to throw the ball to the bases, that is just not going to happen. If we can all just accept that fact, maybe ground balls back to the pitcher will be a little less stressful this year.
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