So far, only rumors surround the Chicago Cubs Opening Day pitching situation, leaving fans scratching their heads about the fate of two of the team’s top hurlers — at least until Tuesday. That’s when the Cubs’ $155 million free agent prize acquisition Jon Lester makes his final pre-season start before Chicago opens the season April 5 at Wrigley Field against the traditional rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lester missed a scheduled spring training start on March 21 due to what the pitcher and team described as a “dead arm.”
“It’s not something out of the ordinary,” Lester said at the time. “There’s no point in trying to grind things out now.”
But after a 54-pitch minor league outing on Thursday, Lester still wasn’t sure if his arm would be feeling less dead by April 5, when he is scheduled to open what the Cubs and Chicago fans hope will be a season of renewal for the beleaguered franchise — one in which the acquisition of Lester, along with a series of lesser but still important offseason moves, gives the team at least a shot at the postseason.
Cubs Manager Joe Maddon elected to throw Lester in a minor league game rather than regular Cactus League contest because teams are allowed to “control” the situations in a minor league game, not only limiting Lester’s overall pitch count, but also the number of pitches he throws in each inning.
Even with the artificially controlled game conditions, Lester still did not feel comfortable enough to pronounce himself ready for the season opener.
“I have one more start,” Lester said following the Thursday outing. “I don’t like to look past the next one. It’s not my first rodeo. We’ll figure it out.”
Three days later, on Sunday, the Cubs still would not confirm that Lester will indeed be on the Wrigley mound April 5.
At the same time, Maddon and the Cubs are facing a quandary over what to do with the fifth starter slot, which had once been reserved for 31-year-old veteran righthander Edwin Jackson.
But Jackson’s spring outings have been disappointing, leading Maddon to consider consigning Jackson to the bullpen — an expensive proposition considering Chicago owes Jackson $22 million on the last two years of a four-year, $52 million contract.
Jackson allowed a shocking eight runs in just an inning-and-a-third last Tuesday — after showing up at the wrong ballpark for his start.
Jackson bounced back with a 4-and-two-third inning scoreless outing on Sunday, but rumors remain that Maddon has already picked Travis Wood as the Chicago Cubs No. 5 starter.
[Image: Rich Pilling/Getty Images]