SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Cubs' Jonathan Lester is trying a new Chicago Bulls-themed approach to deal with his struggles to throw to first base."In the words of coach Brian Butterfield], we're going to use the Jordan-to-Pippen bounce," Lester said Sunday, referring to Bulls legends Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. "I
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Cubs' Jonathan Lester is trying a new Chicago Bulls-themed approach to deal with his struggles to throw to first base.
"In the words of [coach Brian Butterfield], we're going to use the Jordan-to-Pippen bounce," Lester said Sunday, referring to Bulls legends Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. "I don't care what it looks like, I don't care if it bounces 72 times over there, an out's an out."
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Lester and Butterfield, one of the new coaches on the Cubs' staff this year, have been practicing on the back fields, and Lester got to test it in-game in the third inning of Sunday's 2-0 loss when Arizona's David Peralta hit a comebacker. Lester threw a two-hopper to first baseman Efren Navarro, who couldn't scoop up the ball, which skipped into foul territory for an error on Lester.
In the past, when Lester fielded a comebacker, he would often throw underhand to the first baseman. That's what he was taught in Class A ball.
"I think the big thing with 'Butter' is he's trying to make that next step for me, so with the bunt, I don't have to rely on [third baseman Kristopher Bryant] to run in 30 feet to field the ball or [catcher Willson Contreras] to make an unbelievable play. It's so I can get the ball and get it over to [first baseman Anthony Rizzo] and get an out."
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Navarro hasn't been working with Lester and Butterfield, so he appeared to be caught off guard on the play. If Lester can make this work, he doesn't care what it looks like, just like a batter who is credited with a base hit on a blooper.
Lester's difficulties throwing to first have been well documented. Other teams have exploited it. Last year, he was tied with teammate Jacob Arrieta for third in the National League with 19 stolen bases against. It's an improvement from his first season with the Cubs when there were 44 stolen bases in Lester's 32 starts. No offense to David Ross, but a key reason for the better numbers is Contreras.
To his credit, Lester has addressed the problem.
"I've never run from it," Lester said. "I feel for the most part I've been up front about everything. I feel I've worked my butt off to get better at things. I've tried to speed my delivery up, vary my holds, whatever it is. Obviously, from the outside looking in, it's kind of like, 'Why can't you do that?' Like I've said many times before, if I knew why, the things wouldn't be an issue.
"It's part of the game, continue to combat it. When you're able to be open about it and talk to your teammates and talk to your coaches, we can combat it. That's all we're trying to do is fight to get another out, that's really it."
The focus has been on Lester's throws to first, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he thinks the time to the plate is more pertinent in shutting down a running game.
"You can worry about moves, holding runners," Maddon said. "To me, it's about holding the ball, varying your times, coming, set and go. When you upset [the hitter's] timing, he becomes less of a threat."
The Cubs know speedsters like Billy Hamilton and Trea Turner will get their stolen bases.
"The elite guys are going to go," Maddon said. "The biggest thing for Jon is not worry about first base, but worry about home plate. If he just varies like he has and is quicker to the plate like he has been, go pitch. I really think it'll go take care of itself."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.