Jon Lester strikes a balance between starts

CHICAGO -- So what does an elite pitcher do between starts after experiencing a rare off day on the mound? It’s a question that can be asked of Chicago Cubs stars Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Both were hit unusually hard in their latest outings, a five-inning stint for Arrieta on Wednesday and just a 2 2/3-inning appearance for Lester on Saturday against the San Francisco Giants.

Lester gave up six hits and five runs, ending a run of 48 consecutive regular-season starts by a Cubs pitcher of at least five innings. A few days later, Arrieta barely made it through five himself. With Lester’s turn up again on Friday, he was asked what he worked on over the past four days.

"Just because you have a bad one, you don’t want to go out and have what I call the grudge-f--- bullpens when you’re throwing 70 pitches and trying to reinvent the wheel," Lester said earlier this week. "It's a matter of scaling back after a bad one. You don’t want to change something that isn’t broke."

Lester figures that with four days between starts, you can really start to mess with anything from your mechanics to the mental part of your game. It can take you further from finding it again. And apparently the last thing you want to do is overthrow in your bullpen sessions, hence the graphic terminology.

"Unless there is something glaring we need to address, just get back to the routine," he said. "I hate saying 'It's just one of those days,' but ..."

It would be a different story if Lester and pitching coach Chris Bosio found a flaw to fix, but barring something popping up on video, Lester simply chalks it up to a day when his stuff was flat. He watches each outing the day after he pitches but mostly for location issues.

"Good, bad, indifferent [pitches] because when you throw the ball you think you’ve thrown it in a spot, so I go back and watch to know for sure," Lester said.

On Saturday, Lester gave up a two-run double to pitcher Matt Cain and a two-run home run to Buster Posey. It doesn’t sound like a lot of damage, but in between were several more hard-hit balls. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lester’s hard-hit contact was 33.3 percent for the game. Coming into the day it stood at 11.1 percent.

"There's always a handful of pitches in a game you think you threw well and they were hit and stuff like that," Lester said. "You want to rewatch those."

Learning how to deal with failure with so much time between starts wasn’t easy, according to Lester. Now he keeps a steady ship even after outings like Saturday.

"There’s a lot of overkill," he said. "With so much downtime, you can start second-guessing.

"I’ve had plenty of those grudge-f--- bullpens."