Bullpen coach Strode connects with relievers

March 13th, 2017
Lester Strode is the longest tenured coach on the Cubs, entering his 11th season on the staff and his 29th in the organization. (Carrie Muskat)

MESA, Ariz. -- Bullpen coach Lester Strode is the Cubs' relievers' Most Valuable Player. They'll just never tell him that to his face.

Strode, 58, is the team's longest tenured coach, entering his 11th season on the big league staff and his 29th as a member of the Cubs organization.

"Every day he comes to the field, he's the same person," reliever said. "He never comes in angry or upset. He always comes in with a smile on his face. As long as we put our work in and go about our business the right way, he's laid back."

If the Cubs' relievers get out of line at all, Strode calls for a "pow wow."

"We see him like another teammate," reliever said. "We don't see him like the boss. He's part of us, he's one of us. We respect him, but we treat him as another player and just have fun.

"He's the man for us. That means a lot. He really puts out effort to help us."

Then, Strop laughed. There's a wonderful chemistry between the Cubs' relief corps and Strode. Strode, a left-hander, does throw batting practice, and he's busy when the Cubs face a southpaw starter. And if the Cubs lose that game, the relievers let Strode know it's his fault.

When joined the Cubs after being selected in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft, Strode was the one who made him feel welcome.

"Every time I struggle, he comes to me and talks to me like a friend," Rondon said. "Anything I need to know, he lets me know, and in a good way, and sometimes in a bad way, and I take it. I take it when he talks to me strong. It's like having another player in the bullpen. We try to be like family in the bullpen."

The key?

"Trust," Rondon said. "We trust whatever he says. If you have something on your mind about anything, you can go to him."

Now, Strode did call "Jason" for the first full year the right-hander was with the Cubs. Maybe that's why Grimm admits he didn't listen at first.

"I'm like, 'I'm just trying to get ready, and I'm going to go try to impress some coaches,'" Grimm said.

Grimm has changed. This spring, Strode stands next to the righty during his side sessions to remind Grimm to eliminate a head jerk he developed, and to keep his shoulder closed.

"My fastball command has been the best it's been in my career to this point, because I'm keeping this [shoulder] closed," Grimm said. "[Pitching coach Chris Bosio] has helped out a lot, but we're always with Lester. 'Bos' gave him free rein to deal with the bullpen, and that's what he's doing."

Whether it's mid-May or Game 7 of the World Series, Strode does not change his approach. The relievers have their routine -- they pelt Strode with sunflower seeds, and the razzing continues non-stop.

"He's really good with mechanics, but more than that, he can spot the intricacies that each pitcher has," bullpen catcher Chad Noble said. "You see other teams, and the coach separates from the players because of the hierarchy. There is the hierarchy here, but he has everyone's respect because he keeps it pretty jovial."