Notes: Lester lets loose; Javy's 'top secret' work

February 19th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- was testing out a few bats on Tuesday morning and finally found one that felt right in his hands. He decided to bring it out to the workout and used it during a live batting practice session against Cubs veteran .

The bat lived a short life. A Lester pitch carved it in half.

"Thanks, Jon," Bryant said. "My first swing of the whole season is a Jon Lester cutter up and in and I break my bat."

Bryant was quick to note that he "technically" got Lester back by going on to draw a walk in the live BP workout, which included an umpire (a new idea in manager David Ross' first spring). The 36-year-old Lester requested that the umpire not call balls and strikes out loud. The veteran was working on some specific goals, and staring down the official after a close call was not on the docket.

"He gave the umpire a fist bump at the end," Ross said with a laugh. "I was pretty excited about that. That's the best interaction he's had."

Ross said Lester was more interested in getting his own feedback from watching the pitches, and hearing from pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who stood nearby to observe. Lester faced Bryant, and during the session and came away feeling good about where things stand at this early stage of camp.

"I ended up being around the plate pretty well today," Lester said. "Right now, kind of the main focus is just tempo. Having good solid tempo and kind of feeling like you're being aggressive, you know? I think that's a good way to kind of describe it.

"That's all I'm really trying to do, is just be aggressive and have that solid [tempo], where it looks more like an athletic windup as opposed to kind of mechanical. Right now, it feels good."

Utilizing Báez's defense
It is no secret that Báez is a defensive asset for the Cubs. Per Statcast, the shortstop led all Major League defenders in 2019 with 19 Outs Above Average. Given his skill, the Cubs are considering ways to utilize him in different ways to enhance the team's run prevention.

One example arrived on Tuesday, when Báez was working up the third-base line during bunt drills, while the third baseman stayed back. Ross was coy when asked about that particular strategy.

"I didn't see that. What was going on?" Ross said with a smirk.

Bryant also cracked a smile when the topic came up.

"That's top secret," said Bryant, who was then reminded that the practice was public.

"Javy is the anchor of the infield. He's played third, second, short, so he's comfortable moving around," Bryant said. "And it's the fact that we have the talent to be able to do that. Me being over there, acting like a first baseman, being a big target is going to help Javy out."

Worth noting
• Báez is the everyday shortstop, but it remains undetermined which infielder will be his backup on the Opening Day roster. David Bote plays mostly second and third, but served as a backup to Báez last year.

Rookie Nico Hoerner's natural spot is short, but he is vying for the opening at second. There is also a chance the Cubs have Hoerner open with Triple-A Iowa.

"Nico Hoerner's pretty good," Ross said. "He did a pretty good job last year when Javy was down. He's an option. And I'm not saying he's on the team or any of that stuff or any of those statements, but we've got guys that are in camp that can play some short."

• Lester has primarily worked with catcher Willson Contreras, but backup Victor Caratini was behind the plate for Lester on Tuesday. Ross said it is a priority this spring to make sure each catcher works with every pitcher. The manager also praised Caratini's growth at the position over the year.

"He's developed a great relationship with the pitchers," Ross said. "This guy is really a true pro, always looking to grow and learn. What he's done behind the plate with his game calling and his receiving -- and he continues to grow as a catcher -- I think speaks for itself. This guy, it's impressed me a lot watching him since I retired."

• Former Cubs manager Lou Piniella -- one of Marquee Sports Network's new analysts -- swung by camp briefly on Tuesday. He will be among a long list of Cubs alumni joining the network (launching Saturday) in some capacity.