FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester typically devotes each spring to focus on one aspect of pitching. Last year it was getting comfortable with his changeup. This spring its becoming confident to throw it along with all his pitches -- when he wants. It was one of the things he worked on in Thursday mornings 'B' game against the Twins.
Lester allowed one hit and two walks, with a strikeout, in three scoreless innings. He threw first-pitch strikes to 7 of the 11 batters he faced coincidentally, the odd-numbered batters in each inning.
Every year its something different, the left-hander said. Last year it was my changeup, really trying to throw that, and get comfortable with it. Now that I feel comfortable with all of my pitches, now its just trying to get them all in the game. And today in different situations that I normally wouldnt, I threw some changeups ahead in the count, which Ive never really done. So it was good.
"Each year gets a little different as far as what Im trying to accomplish. Getting that feel for those pitches early. Walks, any time you can limit those, which I obviously didnt do today, but kind of the same situation. Threw some pitches to some guys that I normally wouldnt do.
Lester said he would like to get to the point where he feels comfortable throwing his changeup in any situation.
You can envision throwing them really in any count, just a matter of getting that feel, he said. Changeups are such a feel pitch for me that if I can get it to where Im comfortable all the time with it, then its good. So thats the biggest thing. And if I can get to where I can repeat the delivery and be consistent and always have that feel, its a pitch you can always go to.
His changeup became more reliable than his curveball for him last year, he said. According to fangraphs.com, he threw his curveball 13.3 percent of the time, down from 16 percent in 2010 and 16 percent in his career. His use of the changeup was down from 2010 (9.3 percent compared to 11.6 percent) but up from his career of 7.5 percent.
I think its a big pitch for anybody, said pitching coach Bob McClure. If I was to pick a second pitch for anyone, it would be a changeup, because it looks so much like a fastball. So I think its a big pitch for Jon, Josh Beckett, Daniel Bard as well. He has a pretty good one. Its a nice pitch to be able to throw and command any time. Greg Maddux kind of proved that, and theres been other guys, too.
I felt like last year my changeup was better than my curveball, Lester said. So I think I threw more changeups than I did anything as far as any off-speed pitch. So this year were just trying to incorporate all of them and try to get a feel for them early on and that way if I dont have a feel for one for one game, I can rely on the other one. Whereas last year I didnt have a feel for my curveball pretty much all year so I had to rely on my changeup.
So, why not focus more on his curveball now? That wont happen for a while.
Because of arm strength, he said. For me, my curveballs not going to be good this time of year anyway. I still try to throw it but its just I dont have the arm strength yet to have a good one. That wont be till we get to four, five, six, seven innings, where youre really building up and have the arm strength.
Without a reliable curveball, though, Lester knows he would be going into a game at less than full strength.
Yeah, absolutely, he said. Its tough when you dont have that fourth pitch or that pitch that you normally rely on. Its definitely a weapon for me especially early in the count. If Im able to steal strikes with it, it just makes my day so much easier. My changeup was inconsistent last year so if we needed an off-speed pitch early in the count, it was basically 50-50 and nine times out of 10 it wasnt a strike. So it was tough not having that. There were some games where I had better ones than normal or not normal but better than average last year. But it was a struggle with me just as far as the feel for it.
Getting a feel for it, getting confidence in it, being able to throw it at any point in a count, can be very valuable.
It can be very important, said McClure. Who wants to swing at first-pitch curveball strike one? Not many people. So its something I dont feel that hell really have trouble with.