MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs put a runner on first base to start the fifth inning of Jon Lester's simulated game on Tuesday. Lester saw that, and threw to first. His second pickoff attempt sailed and prompted an expletive from the Cubs left-hander. And then Lester asked that a runner stay on first base so he could continue to work on his defense.
"Once they [put the runner there], I knew what we were going to try to work on, and I threw the ball over, and it got away from me, and I put him back on first base," Lester said. "I might as well take the opportunity to work on it in a setting like this."
Opposing teams know Lester has trouble throwing to first. Lester knows it, too, and hasn't hid from it.
"This is something I can't run from," Lester said. "This isn't something you can hide from. I can't run from it. It's obviously out there, and everybody knows. It's something I'm continuing to try to tackle every day. That's all that I can do, and hopefully my teammates believe I'm putting my work in every day to try to get better at it."
Pitching coach Chris Bosio scheduled the simulated game for Lester so he could pitch in a controlled setting. Jake Arrieta will do the same on Saturday rather than face the Indians in a night game in Goodyear. John Lackey probably has one coming up vs. Minor League players, as well.
The few fans who watched Lester's outing on Field 1 may have felt the lefty was regressing as he made at least four errant throws. He felt there were plenty of positives.
"The step off move was good," Lester said. "I got under one, and I think I caught the first baseman off guard on one of them. It wasn't too terrible of a throw but still down the line. I'd rather miss down, and that's what we've been working on as opposed to [missing] up. You can defend down."
In the fourth inning, there was a runner at first and the batter hit a comebacker. Catcher David Ross yelled "four" which meant Lester should throw home, but the pitcher turned and threw to second. The two then met on the mound so Lester knew what Ross was thinking at that time. Lester did pick off Dan Vogelbach as he took a walking lead in the second inning.
It's a work in progress.
"Throwing to bases and fielding my position has been my downfall since I was a kid," Lester said. "I just wasn't good at fielding my position."
He worked on it in Boston, and he's working on it with the Cubs.
"I'm going to have to manage it," Lester said. "Hopefully, there's something that clicks and we find some type of mechanical thing I can focus on and make it easier. The thing that really helps me is that step off. It makes me throw the ball."
Lester knows the Billy Hamiltons and Dee Gordons are going to run. He's trying to stop the players who shouldn't be stealing.
"There were a lot of positives today," Lester said. "I know to the outsider it doesn't look like it, but a lot of positives. I threw over eight, nine times, I made a couple mistakes, but I'll take the good with the bad."