The Cubs haven’t made a formal announcement on the rotation yet, but, after his latest minor league appearance yesterday, it sounds like Jon Lester will be ready to start when the team opens the season on Sunday night on ESPN2 against the Cardinals.
Pitching against the AA Tennessee Spring roster, Lester threw 84 pitches, more than 60 for strikes. That, alone, is good news. After, Lester told the media that, although he still didn’t feel sharp, “When you get that adrenaline, you get that little extra excitement, your arm quickens up and usually things start getting a little bit sharper from there.” You can see Lester’s comments here:
Clearly, Lester was not happy with how he pitched, but I also get the sense, the more I hear from him, that this is just how Lester is – very serious, very demanding of himself, and not interested in overstating the positives before the season even begins. You can read some of the specifics about Lester’s outing over at TCR from Arizona Phil, and you’ll see that he did get hit a lot. But it’s worth noting that, even by Lester’s own description, he was working on some specific things, different from what he would do in a regular season game (he’ll also have a different defense behind him). He was also clearly pounding the zone.
All in all, I’m not concerned about Lester’s effectiveness in the early going of 2015. I suspect he’s going to be as effective or ineffective as he was always going to be, regardless of Spring Training – he’s earned that presumption. I was concerned about the health of his arm, and, by all accounts throughout the process, he’s fine. If Lester struggles for a month’s worth of regular season starts or something, then we can talk.
Barring Lester waking up today feeling terrible after his outing, I’m assuming we’ll soon hear about the rotation for the first week of the season. It’s likely to feature Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, and Kyle Hendricks, probably in that order.
Interestingly, David Ross once again caught Lester in the minor league game yesterday, so I do wonder if he’ll get the nod on Opening Night, even after a righty in Adam Wainwright, who has been cleared to start the opener for the Cardinals. Although Miguel Montero and David Ross each have a strong lefty-righty split, Wainwright does not. That is to say, I’m not sure how much offense the Cubs would be losing by starting Ross behind the plate on Opening Night. And if that’s what makes Lester the most comfortable for now, then it’s definitely what I want to see happen.