MESA, Ariz. — Think of a baseball topic making news these days and there’s a good chance Chicago Cubs lefty Jon Lester is against it. As one of the old-school players left in the game, he frowns upon the idea of openers, the designated hitter and, of course, a pitch clock.
He was asked if he noticed the digital clock ticking down from 20 seconds during his first spring start on Monday.
“Sure,” Lester said with plenty of sarcasm. “Whatever makes people feel better.
“Baseball is baseball. You’re not going to speed it up. You’re not going to change it. You can put the pitch clock there. The game is going to flow the way the game flows.
“If you have a 6-5 game, it’s going to be 3.5 hours. If you have a 2-1 game, it’s going to be 2 [hours], 50 minutes. We have to get over the whole mindset of changing the pace of play as opposed to the product on the field.”
“It’s dumb because they have us in last place.” Winners of an average of 97 games over the past four years, here’s what the Cubs really think about a projection that has them winning 79 games.
Lester wasn’t done speaking his mind. Though his goal is to pitch 200 innings every year, he’s against the designated hitter coming to the National League. The DH would allow him to pitch more innings, over the course of the season, but it would change the dynamic of the game as well.
“Would you rather face David Ortiz or a pitcher?” Lester joked before getting serious. “I think that’s what makes our (NL) game unique. You have to come over here and learn the league. You learn how to pitch more. In the AL it’s just here’s the ball for 120 (pitches).”
In other words, NL pitchers have to learn how to navigate a lineup better because they can use the pitcher at the bottom of the order as a potential automatic out.
“Do I understand what they’re trying to do?” Lester asked. “One hundred percent. Nobody wants to watch me hit. They didn’t pay for a ticket to watch me hit.”
They pay to watch Lester pitch, he says, and for as long as he can. An opener, used by some teams last year, would never allow him to throw a complete game. He laughed off the suggestion of being available later in the game as opposed to the start of it.
“There is a reason why it says ‘starter’ before my name,” Lester said. “That’s plain and simple. I get paid to start. I get paid to throw innings.
“You’re not going to not start LeBron James because you want him at the end of the game. You’re going to put him in to start the game and you’re going to put him in at the end of the game. If we’re fortunate enough to go that long, great; otherwise, that’s why we pay our closers.”
That brought the topic around to Lester’s goal of pitching 200 innings — an opener would help prevent that as well. As for his abilities, he sees no reason he can’t still be at the top of his game at age 35.
“That 200 is still my number,” Lester stated. “I did one of the two things (last year) I try to do every year, make every start and pitch 200 innings. I made every start, now I just have to get those innings up.
“I don’t care if it’s hit to the warning track or someone makes a diving catch. An out is an out. I’m sure you can go back to Hall of Fame pitchers and break down barrel rates and hard contact and FIPs, and all that other stuff, but at the end of the year 18-6 with a 3.30 is still pretty good.”
Lester wasn’t finished with any perceived slights of himself or his rotation teammates. One algorithm (PECOTA) predicts the Cubs to win just 79 games, in part, because of an older starting staff.
“Apparently we’re just old and ready to be on the back side of our careers,” Lester said with more sarcasm. “I’ll let a computer program tell me whether or not I’m going to be good this year. We’ll have to play out 162 and we’ll see.
“I love our rotation. I love our guys. I love our competitiveness. I love how each person is different.”
Asked if he could be even better in 2019, Lester didn’t hesitate.
“Why not? I’m not dead. I still compete.”