Wanted Dead or Alive: Cubs Need Jon Lester’s Arm One Way or the Other

Mention arm trouble in relation to a pitcher and red flags go up. Mention it in conjunction with the man on whom the Cubs spent $155 million and in whom fans have invested their faith and emotional fire alarms are pulled. Although I will say the reaction to news that Jon Lester was suffering from a “dead arm” was a bit more subdued than I might have expected.

Perhaps we’ve learned a little bit about collective patience after all these years. Whatever the reason for the lack of overreaction, Lester put any remaining unease to bed with a minor-league session Thursday. He even addressed the amorphous nature of his diagnosis.

“I think any time you pitch for a living, you’re never really past the dead-arm phase,” the Cubs pitcher explained. “After the first day, it never really feels too good after that. I don’t know who came up with it. But I think that’s just kind of the easiest way to describe kind of that feeling you have. Today was good. Today was a normal day.”

Patrick Mooney writes that several Cubs staff members, not to mention various dignitaries, media members, and minor leaguers, were gathered to watch the exhibition. To be sure, this miniature bell jar was nothing compared to the fish bowl in which he’ll be pitching in a little over a week, but Lester showed the assembled crowd what he’s all about.

Even in the controlled environment, Lester wasn’t necessarily calm and stoic. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” he said. “It’s something that people have tried to change for me, but that’s just kind of who I am. If I’m down 10, I’m going to be pretty pissed.”

But despite the fiery demeanor, the Cubs ace doesn’t allow himself to deviate from the immediate task at hand.

“I don’t like to go past the next one. Today was good, look forward to the next one. And if everything goes well, then we can talk about Opening Night.”

When it comes to that next start and beyond, Joe Maddon said he’s already got a plan:

“He’s already thrown 70, backed off to 54; I’d imagine he’d be 75-80 on his next time out, which puts him right around a hunsky, 95 or so for the Opening Night. He’s gonna definitely be on a pitch count.”

A hunsky? I love it. Even when he goes all Quade with his baseball talk, Maddon makes things sound cool. The manager said he was happy with the way Lester looked out on the mound, that it was more about him appearing comfortable than it was the results.

And even though he was out there just trying to find a groove, touching 93 during the abbreviated outing should answer any questions regarding the life in Lester’s arm. The timing of the matter played a role as well, as Lester explained.

“But during the regular season, this wouldn’t have been a problem. It’s spring training, we have the time … so why not take it? That’s kind of the general consensus of the people involved in the decision. And I don’t think there was any argument from anybody or any concern.”

So even in the face of rumors and fears to the contrary, it’s looking like Lester will indeed take the bump next Sunday night to face the Cardinals and that he’ll do so in the as-yet-unfinished confines of Wrigley Field. It still hasn’t quite registered for me, the fact that the Cubs will send this proven, stud ace to the mound backed by a manager like Joe Maddon and a team filled with young stars, not all of whom are even up at the big-league level.

Call me crazy, but this meaningless, 54-pitch effort from Lester — and hearing him discuss it and his approach in general — has got me feeling even more excited for the season. Dead or alive, this is the kind of pitcher who’s going to go out and do his damndest to win some ballgames. Jon Lester really is ours now, and I can’t wait to watch him every 5th game.


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