Cubs Bust Out Lumber, Lester Struggles in Spring Debut

It’s only in the title because it has to be, so please don’t go worrying about Jon Lester’s ugly debut on Thursday in Arizona. Not only has the big lefty been a relatively slow starter in throughout his career, but that first time out on the bump is more about facing live hitters and getting a rhythm back after a few months off. No, seven hits and six runs (three earned) allowed isn’t exactly the kind of outing hype videos are cut from, but it’s not the stuff of nightmares either.

Many times, a pitcher is simply trying to get a feel the zone or maybe a specific pitch. Based on what I can gather from the Gameday info, Lester was working on the cutter against the Mariners. Traditionally his most effective pitch, the cut fastball isn’t necessarily one you can just go out and have mastery of right out of the gate. That was evident Thursday, as six of the 12 balls put in play against Lester came off of the cutter.

Neither velocity nor the overall pitch mix deviated too far from what we saw last season, though Lester did lean more heavily on the cutter as his short stint progressed. After throwing it only 5 times (19%) in the 1st inning, he went to it 11 times (46%) in the 2nd. This isn’t a situation in which Lester went out with a game plan to shut the Mariners down, so I’m inclined to believe it was simply a matter of getting his favorite pitch right without regard to results. Yet.

The line wasn’t pretty, but it’s not a big deal unless you make it a big deal. Don’t make it a big deal.

You know what was pretty though? Seeing Jorge Soler pop one out to right-center in the 2nd inning. Nice to see him showing off some oppo power and getting some elevation on the ball. John Mallee was said to be working with Soler on his swing plane in an attempt to get a few more of those rocket line drives over the fence. It’s too early to make any pronouncements, but I like the results on this hit.

As fun as it is to see the Cubs relying on Soler power, no one — not Kris Bryant, not Anthony Rizzo, and not even my beloved War Bear — can approach Javy Baez in terms of pure entertainment value. When he came to the plate in the 7th with his team trailing 4-7 with two outs and a man on, you can probably guess what Javy’s plan was: See ball, destroy ball. Did I mention he was facing a guy who has yet to pitch above the advanced-A level?

Javy watched one Emilio Pagan fastball go by at 91, but he jumped all over the second offering. I could watch that swing all day, could listen to the bat parting the air that dares offer up the most trivial resistance as it passes through a murderous arc to meet its intended target. The sound produced by the impact of maple on horsehide is less wooden crack than sonic boom, as though the ball is being repelled rather than propelled.

If you paid attention to the game, you may have noticed that I neglected to mention Kristopher Negron’s home run, but I was just saving it for last. I can’t imagine a scenario in which Negron makes the 25-man, but we’ll always have the moment he launched one into the midst of a bunch of shirtless dudes.

In summary: Don’t worry about Lester, home runs are really fun, Spring Training wins and losses don’t matter, don’t worry about Lester, Javy Baez swings hard, and don’t worry about Lester.

Oh, I almost forgot: Don’t worry about Lester.

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