MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Lester downplays effective Spring Training start

Cubs southpaw avoids fielding, throwing errors in scoreless five-inning outing

Lester downplays effective Spring Training start

MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Lester was healthy, effective and generally what the Cubs were looking for in a late-March Spring Training start.

Against the Brewers on Friday at Sloan Park, Lester pitched five scoreless innings, giving up just two hits and one walk and striking out two. He got six groundball outs and successfully pitched around two infield errors.

The Brewers later rallied for five runs in the ninth to defeat the Cubs, 5-4.

Typically, Lester was less impressed with his performance than everybody else was.

"I think it looked a lot better than it was," Lester said. "For me, it definitely wasn't as good as last time as far as stuff and location, but we kind of masked that pretty well. Sometimes you have starts like that, especially now, you feel like you're going pretty well and then your body lets you know that it's Spring Training and you don't have everything figured out.

"But it was good to get up and down five times and face a team that we're going to have a lot of experience with this year. It's good to kind of get a grinder like that out of the way, too."

With his pitch count at 67, Lester said he could have easily continued beyond the fifth inning, but the time of the year to make that argument is during the regular season.

"Boz [pitching coach Chris Bosio] told me I was done, and I was done," Lester said. "I'll try to save my arguments for the innings later in the season. Hopefully, I can win some of those because I didn't do anything here. We'll see."

Lester was not troubled by fielding or throwing issues. The last time Lester started against Milwaukee, the Brewers stole five bases against him. They attempted one steal this time, and that was unsuccessful. This may have said more about the nature of the rebuilding Milwaukee club than it did about Lester, but still, there was no issue in this aspect of his performance.

Lester did miss a bouncer hit back to him, but fortunately for the Cubs, the ball caromed off his glove directly to Munenori Kawasaki at short and the batter was thrown out at first.

Lester's performance met the relatively modest goals set out by Cubs manager Joe Maddon for this outing. Asked what he needed to see from Lester, Maddon responded:

"Just health. Health and [he] gets the requisite number of pitches in, hopefully.

"Honestly, I know we're still working diligently on getting him better at fielding his position and throwing to bases. He's been really proactive in that, he's been open about it, which I think is a big part of the healing process."

Lester's health was fully intact after this start.

"I feel good. Physically I was fine," Lester said. "Stuff within the game was fine. Threw a couple of better curveballs today, mixed in a changeup or two. Cutter was hit-or-miss for the majority of the day. Was able to locate some two-seamers down and away, which usually isn't a strength of mine.

"There were some positives in there that maybe don't stand out, because I'm thinking more now of just how I felt, the adjustments I have to make before my next one. But everything feels fine. I'm going in the right direction."

Lester is currently slated to start the second game of the season, but that could change if Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta continues to have difficulty with a blister on his right thumb. Arrieta had to come out of his start on Thursday because of the blister.

Maddon on Arrieta's blister

Lester has been an Opening Day starter before, and he would have no difficulty with that assignment. But he also says he doesn't think that change will have to be made.

"If that's what happens, then that's what happens," Lester said. "I think all five of us are prepared to go whenever they tell us to go. So if it's a day sooner, we'll make an adjustment. If it's my normal day, then we'll stay right on track.

"But talking to Jake this morning, I don't think he's too concerned about it. Hopefully that thing heals up fine and we don't have to worry about it. I don't think it's going to affect him too much."

Whenever, wherever he pitches, Jon Lester is a plus for the Cubs. On a day when he didn't like his stuff or his command, in a performance he described as "a grinder," the opposition could not score against him.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.