Jon Lester ‘Felt Pretty Strong’ in Rough Cactus League Debut

Here’s a riddle for you: Who allows five runs on three hits and two walks, then gets lifted in the 2nd inning after facing three batters without recording an out and is happy about it? You’ve probably already figured the answer based on either the box score or the headline, but it’s Jon Lester. That’s right, the aging lefty actually took Tuesday’s bumpy outing as a net positive.

“I felt pretty strong today,” Lester told’s Jordan Bastian and other reporters after the game. “I feel like I’m in a better place right now physically than I have been since, let’s say, last year. Hopefully, I’ll continue to work on that angle and get some better results next time.”

What should have been a multi-inning start resulted in David Ross having to pull a pitcher for the first time as manager, so it was fitting that Lester was on the other end. Sorry to those who were hoping for some feisty antics, but this hook wasn’t the least bit controversial. After his 31st pitch resulted in an RBI double by Drew Butera, it was evident there was no reason to leave the starter in the game.

There is likewise no reason to perform an autopsy on this start as some sort half-assed attempt at predictive analysis for the season to come. As with most debuts, Lester was simply looking to establish the fastball against the Rockies. That’s not a matter of velocity, which Lester admitted he wasn’t aware of, it just means trying to find a level of comfort. It also means giving up a little contact here and there, which isn’t a bad thing when the games don’t matter nearly as much as the experience.

For a pitcher like Lester, who’s been around seemingly forever and isn’t likely to be around much longer, it’s all a matter of gauging readiness to step up his routine and step toward the season. That’s something he can discern with much greater accuracy than any of us sitting at home (not) watching him on Marquee.

“I think it’s more of just a mindset of being aggressive early,” Lester explained. “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 one early on, show them that we’re on the plate and then I can expand.”

Just as you shouldn’t have been excited for a clean inning or two with a couple of strikeouts, there’s absolutely no reason to worry about Lester giving up a handful of runs in this one. Maybe we can start chewing our nails and complaining about his contract if he’s still pitching like this three starts from now, except…nah, that’d still be foolish.

Lester isn’t the ace he once looked like, nor is he going to be ass moving forward.

Special delivery

When Cubs players and fans get mad at a manger’s decision this season, they’re likely to exclaim, “F Ross!” But when a relatively unknown sidearming righty comes on in relief of Lester with a man on second and no outs, then proceeds to sandwich a walk between a groundout and two strikeouts, the response is “Effross!”

With all apologies for suddenly becoming a Scott Effross stan site, more people are hearing his name lately and I’m not self-important enough to believe that all of them have read what I’ve written about him. The former Indiana Hoosier looked really good Tuesday afternoon, getting lefty David Dahl to ground out, then whiffing righty Ian Desmond on a slider away. After a walk to Trevor Story, Effross caught lefty Ryan McMahon looking at a fastball. Not bad for a guy who needed to overhaul his entire delivery in the middle of last season.

I bring that up for the second time this spring because Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies were wondering aloud about Effross’s delivery during Marquee’s broadcast. JD correctly assumed that it was a change based upon necessity, something the righty had to do in order to keep pitching professionally. Effross only sits in the high 80’s with the fastball, but his deceptive delivery and the natural movement it creates makes velocity play up and can fool hitters.

Bobby Basham, the Cubs’ director of player development, told CI back in January that the organization is really excited to see what Effross can do over a full season with the new delivery and it’s easy to understand why.

Miller avoids getting tattooed

The Cubs are also really high on Tyson Miller, so much so that they added him to the 40-man roster after what his stats showed was a poor showing at Triple-A following his promotion last season. Some of that was the juiced ball, but it was also a matter of Miller getting a little too cute and trying to fool hitters rather than going at them aggressively.

The result was an inflated ERA as more experienced hitters tattooed his mistakes. That’s even more painful than all the time Miller has spent in the chair getting his full sleeves completed, which is why he’s worked this offseason to improve his approach more than just trying to tighten up individual pitches. It’s a matter of being confident in his stuff to know that he can beat hitters, then working to better understand how to mix his pitches.

Miller got a groundout and then struck out two, one swinging and one looking, in a perfect inning of work Tuesday.

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