Juan Nieves

Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves: Don't worry about Jon Lester throwing over

Rob Bradford
April 10, 2015 - 7:32 am

NEW YORK -- It took just one start for the panic to set in at Wrigley Field. Jon Lester doesn't make pickoff throws! In fact, he has now gone 66 straight games without attempting a throw to first, with the last one coming all the way back on April 30, 2013. The reason for the sudden attention to Lester's approach with runners on base was due to the usually station-to-station Cardinals attempting four steals off the lefty in his first start as a Cub. For those who lived through the reality of Lester's approach with the Red Sox, the conversation seems much to do about nothing. "It'€™s not a big deal," said Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves. "First of all, he'€™s a guy who changes patterns and times to the plate. A lot of guys never ran on him because how quick he is to the plate. "I know we practiced a lot in spring training, but he decided to vary his holds and focus on his pitching. I thought he managed that correctly." Nieves served as Lester's pitching coach for 59 regular and postseason starts, during which time the starter went 29-16 with a 3.11 ERA. In that span the pitcher saw baserunners succeed in stealing 22 of 29 times. It was 31 fewer attempts than John Lackey endured in the same time period, and the same as Felix Doubront (who allowed two more successful steals). (Also, none of the 33 baserunners allowed to reach by Lester throughout the 2013 postseason attempted a stolen base.) Nieves was there for what could be considered the new version of Lester, who threw over 69 times in 2011 but just 11 over the next three seasons. The real issue when Lester was pitching for the Red Sox was throwing to bases after fielding balls. But few teams attempted to push that issue, either. The lefty has made as many as three errors in just one of his nine previous big league seasons. "The one I was most concerned was the ground ball to him with first and third, trying to get a double play," Nieves said. "But I'€™m sure he can manage it." But after the go-go Royals went 3-for-4 in steals during their wild card playoff win over Lester last season, and then the Cardinals' success earlier this week, a new narrative has emerged. (To read a great analysis of Lester's pickoff approach, read this Grantland piece.) Until then, however, at least those in the Red Sox clubhouse who know the pitcher best aren't raising the same red flags popping up over Wrigley. "Absolutely he'll be fine," Nieves said. "There are who prefer to focus on the pitch instead of focusing on the noise behind him. So what they do is vary their hold and be quick to the plate. That's what he does."