MESA, Ariz. -- Most of the time, live batting practice sessions in spring training aren’t as exciting as you might think. It’s the first time batters and pitchers are facing each other since last season, so sometimes there’s little contact or action. There are no fielders and no one is “running it out.” The vibe isn’t exactly playoff-like.
But that was pre-Jon Lester.
The Chicago Cubs' new $155 million man was treated like a rock star facing his new teammates in his first session on the mound on a sunny Friday at Cubs camp. The rains might come this weekend, but everything looked bright with Lester throwing to David Ross, just as he did when the Boston Red Sox won a world championship in 2013.
The cameras clicked from onlookers that included fans and media alike. Anthony Rizzo stepped into the box, and Jon Lester began his Cubs career in front of dozens instead of the thousands he’ll see on Opening Day.
Afterward, manager Joe Maddon summed it up: “I thought he looked really good.”
Ross knows Lester better than anyone. He says his fastball was crisp, but Lester is always wanting more.
“He wants it too bad sometimes,” Ross said. “It’s a good quality. He’s hard on himself more than he should be. It’s his first batting practice, and he wants it to be locked in.”
Lester threw approximately 45 pitches to a group of hitters that included Rizzo, Javier Baez, Chris Denorfia and Jorge Soler. Rizzo had the best contact off him, to the base of the wall in left-center field.
“He’s a horse up there,” Rizzo said. “The biggest thing is he felt good. Talking to him afterwards, that’s good to hear.”
According to Maddon, Lester threw a few off-speed pitches, including some cutters, but mainly stuck with his fastball. Baez pulled a grounder through the hole at shortstop and saw some of Lester’s good stuff.
“I told him right after live batting practice, I prefer to play defense for you,” Baez joked. “He was acting like if it was a good pitch or a bad pitch (as it was released). He knows what he’s doing.”
There’s no doubting that. And after the session was over, Lester talked things over with his catcher, Rizzo, Maddon and the other hitters. Ross said these are the moments they’ll recall later in the season when they need to reference back to something they worked on in spring training. The communication is essential.
“You can see how David (Ross) brings out the best in Jon,” Maddon said. “They’re on the same frequency.”
Maddon wouldn’t commit to Lester starting the Cubs' Cactus League opener next Thursday, but there’s a good chance it happens. They actually have a split-squad game that day, one home, one on the road. The Cubs shouldn’t miss the chance to debut their new ace in front of a sold-out crowd, so bet on Lester throwing in Mesa -- against his old team the Oakland Athletics -- and not in Scottsdale against the World champ San Francisco Giants. That’s if he’s ready.
“We want to be perfectionists in our game,” Ross said. “Jon is no different. He wants it all to be right. And he wants feedback, and I know him.”
As for the bright lights and all those cameras clicking everywhere he goes, been there, done that.
“It’s probably nothing compared to Boston,” Rizzo stated. “It’s just good to have him here and get those butterflies out of the way.”