Jon Lester will pitch in a game tomorrow after being scratched from his previous Spring start with dead arm, but it won’t be the regular Cactus League game.
Instead, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon says Lester will start in a minor league game so that his outing can be managed (Cubs.com). If Lester got caught up in a long, laborious inning in a Cactus League game, that wouldn’t be a good thing for his regular season preparation. In a minor league game, the Cubs can limit his pitches in each inning, and give the outing more structure. Lester is expected to throw about 60 pitches tomorrow, and could bump that up to 80 by his next appearance (which also may be a minor league outing (Tribune), and his final Spring start before Opening Night).*
If that sounds like fewer pitches than you might want to see before the regular season, it’s right there on the border. Maddon admitted that Lester, assuming he remains healthy, might be limited in the opener against the Cardinals, in terms of how many pitches he’s allowed to throw (ESPN).
In isolation, none of this is a major concern. For one thing, you wouldn’t really want to see an important pitcher going too far beyond 100 pitches in his first start of the year (in cold Chicago, no less) anyway. So, if Lester is limited to 90 to 100 pitches against the Cardinals, that doesn’t bother me in the least.
Similarly, controlling Lester’s outings before the start of the season is fine. He’s an established vet who knows what he needs to do to get big league hitters out in the regular season, so I have no concerns that he can get himself ready whether he’s facing minor leaguers in a faux game, or big/minor leaguers in a “real” Cactus League game.
You take it all together, though, and any hardcore Cubs fan is going to be a touch nervous to see any level of caution with Lester, and already talking about him being limited when the regular season rolls around. Lester was not only a pricey offseason investment, he’s a critical component to the Cubs having success in 2015 – and winning early in the year is, in turn, a critical component of that.
I’ll keep telling myself that it’s just the diseased, Cubs-fan mentality that causes me fits of concern when there may not be a rational reason for it. Dead arm is common. Lester’s had it before, and pitches fine afterwards. It’s just Spring Training, so of course the Cubs are going to be overly cautious. There is no pain or discomfort anywhere. The Cubs wouldn’t be talking about Opening Night at all if there were any serious concerns. This is merely about being proactive, about ensuring health for a long season, and building up arm strength. Shorter outings early in the year aren’t a concern, either, because there are so many off-days and the bullpen will be fresh.
Ok, that mostly gets me there. I feel better.
We’ll just have to hope for a normal performance tomorrow, and then again in five days. From there, Lester will start the opener against the Cardinals. That remains the plan.
*(As Will Carroll notes, by pitching in minor league games the final week and a half of the Spring, Lester would be eligible for a retroactive DL stint to begin the season – i.e., he’d have to be on the DL for only a handful of regular season days and not actually miss a full turn in the rotation, while giving the Cubs a few days of roster flexibility. It doesn’t sound like that’s the plan or anything like that. I’m just pointing out that, procedurally, it could be an option available to the Cubs if necessary.)