Lester knows he still needs to hit his stride

After rocky start and wild pickoff throw, lefty confident looking forward

Lester knows he still needs to hit his stride

CHICAGO -- The regular season may have started, but it's still Spring Training for Jon Lester, who showed he can throw to first base, and also why it's a little awkward for him to do so.

Lester did not get a decision Monday night in his second Cubs start, giving up six runs over six innings against the Reds. Chicago rallied to win, 7-6, on Arismendy Alcantara's walk-off RBI single in the 10th.

"Overall, he's still not as sharp as he's going to be," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I know he's going to keep getting better. If you ask him, he's probably disappointed in himself."

"Obviously, I haven't hit my stride yet," Lester said, "but I don't want to use anything as a crutch by any means. Things have to be better. When you have four [relievers] going out there doing their jobs, and you're the loose end of the chain, it's never good."

After all the hubbub over whether Lester could throw to first, he did just that in the second. Zack Cozart singled to lead off, and Lester then struck out Mike Leake. After one pitch to Kristopher Negron, Lester threw to first, and the move was greeted by a sarcastic cheer from the crowd.

"On the first one, it actually felt really good to throw a ball to first base," Lester said. "It's been awhile."

How long? It was the first time since April 30, 2013, when Lester did so against the Blue Jays.

Then Lester tried to do it again, and the ball sailed past first baseman Anthony Rizzo for an error. Right fielder Jorge Soler was backing up, and threw to third in time to get Cozart.

"The second one, I got a little excited," Lester said. "I looked over there and [Cozart] was going the other direction. When you're not used to doing stuff like that, I just got a little over excited and tried to throw the ball too soon. Once again, [Soler] picked me up and comes in and makes the great play."

The Cubs have worked with Lester this spring on his pickoff throws, and he feels he's made progress.

"He'll either control the running game by holding the ball, varying his times, being quick to the plate, stepping off," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "If that doesn't work, he'll end up throwing to first base. He'll find a way to control it."

When Lester was in Boston, Epstein said the lefty had a good move to first. Somewhere along the line, he stopped throwing over there as much.

Lester's Spring Training was interrupted when he skipped a start because of a tired arm.

"The biggest thing for him [in his first start April 5] was he didn't get to have a normal Spring Training," Epstein said. "He hasn't gotten into a good routine yet. I have no doubts he will."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.