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Lester working on 'bounce pass' throw to first

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brian Butterfield remembers working with Jon Lester on his throws when they were together on the Red Sox, retreating to what the coach light-heartedly called, "Field 109, where there was nobody." The two are reunited on the Cubs, and the lessons have resumed.

On Sunday, Lester tested his "Jordan-to-Pippen" style bounce pass to first after he fielded a comebacker, and the play surprised first baseman Efren Navarro. It also resulted in an error, but it's part of the learning process.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brian Butterfield remembers working with Jon Lester on his throws when they were together on the Red Sox, retreating to what the coach light-heartedly called, "Field 109, where there was nobody." The two are reunited on the Cubs, and the lessons have resumed.

On Sunday, Lester tested his "Jordan-to-Pippen" style bounce pass to first after he fielded a comebacker, and the play surprised first baseman Efren Navarro. It also resulted in an error, but it's part of the learning process.

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"I thought that was perfect," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Monday about the play. "Efren's not used to working with him, and he kind of stretched a little early. I honestly believe if Efren had played with him more, he would've been in position to catch that ball.

"It's going to work," Maddon said. "They're working on it, and working on different methods to get it done."

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It's not for lack of effort.

"Throwing a ball to a base for him in a quiet setting is far different than when he has to cock his arm in a game setting," Butterfield said Monday of Lester. "That's understandable.

"Pitchers for the most part, it's probably a little more difficult for them to throw to the bases because they've made a living out of long arm action," Butterfield said. "Infielders, we try to shorten their backswing when they throw to the bases to become more accurate. Outfielders have trouble throwing batting practice when they become coaches because of the long arm swing."

Butterfield said they tried a bounce pass when Lester was with the Red Sox as well.

"[Sunday] was a little bit different because it was a deflected ball that came back in front of the mound," Butterfield said of the grounder by Arizona's David Peralta in the third inning. "We've worked the skip pass on the third base side, where there's a little more distance, and we've also worked on the first base side, where he can get his body turned around and short arm stroke, almost like throwing a dart and getting that skip."

What happened on Sunday?

"He might have held on too long," Butterfield said. "It hit closer to him than he wanted to and it checked up on him."

Of course, Butterfield would prefer to low key their work.

"One of the big things is you try not to make a big deal of it," Butterfield said. "Any facet of the game, where you start thinking about it too much, might make it more difficult. Whatever we do, at some point in time, he'll be able to conquer a lot of it."

It will help Lester knowing he has Anthony Rizzo at first base.

"[Rizzo] knows what Jon's going to do with the ball," Butterfield said. "They've rehearsed this several times. I think with Riz, you can probably do anything. You can hide the ball, flip it behind him and he'll still figure out a way to catch it."

Video: CWS@CHC: Lester strikes out Anderson swinging

What's impressive to Butterfield is that Lester wants to work on it.

"The thing I think was most pleasing about yesterday, was that he was very upbeat after the game," Butterfield said. "Maybe somebody else, or Jonny in the past as a younger pitcher, he would've seemed bothered by it. He's fine with everything going on, whether it's throwing the ball in the air, whether it's skipping it. He's feeling good about where he is now going into the season."

There is one question: Butterfield grew up on the East Coast and is a Celtics fan. Why did he pick Chicago Bulls stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen?

"I probably would've used [Kevin] McHale and [Larry] Bird," Butterfield said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Jon Lester