With three World Series rings in his 15-year career, what motivates 37-year-old veteran Jon Lester to keep going? Lester signed a 1-year/$5M deal with the Washington Nationals this week, after he spent six seasons in Chicago, helping the Cubs end their 108-year World Series drought back in 2016, nine years after he helped the Boston Red Sox win a second World Series in four years in 2007, and three years after he won a second Series in Boston, in 2013.
What motivates him to keep on going? What does the left-hander want to accomplish in 2021?
“Win,” Lester said simply in a Zoom call with reporters after his one-year deal with the Nats was announced.
“I think that’s never wavered for me. From day one even in the minor leagues till I signed with the Cubs to now being here with the Nationals.
“I want to win. I still have the drive to win. I want to bring another ring to D.C., and hopefully we can do that.”
“I just hate to lose,” Lester explained when asked about his competitive drive.
“Plain and simple, I hate getting beat,” he said. “I love the competition side of things.
“And really anything I do it turns competitive. I want to be good at what I do so that’s what drives me, and now having these guys in the rotation I think will drive me even more.”
In D.C., Lester is joining a rotation that — barring injuries or setbacks — is going to feature Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and one of (or a combination of ... more likely), Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, or Austin Voth.
“Watching these guys for a while and seeing how good they’ve been in their big league careers, I’m just excited to be a part of this rotation,” Lester said.
“But like I said, I hate losing. I hate that whole feeling. Especially as a pitcher you only get to do it every five days, so that day is just that much important to me.
“When you lose, it feels like you kind of let your whole team down. So hopefully there’s a lot more winning than losing going on and we can continue to have success over here.”
The southpaw said he’s also excited to slot in towards the back end of a strong rotation and help the cause rather than fronting a rotation as he has previously in his career.
“I tell you what, it’s going to be nice to just kind of sit back and watch these guys work,” he said.
“Obviously I’ve seen them from afar and got to compete against them for a long time, and I’m excited to work with them.
“It’s always nice when you go to another team and you get to see how guys work. I’m excited for that. Get to see how they prepare for each start.
“Obviously I’ve gotten to know Scherzer a little bit over the years. I don’t really know Stras and Patrick that well yet, look forward to that.
“I’m just excited to kind of dig into their minds and see how they prepare and really just stay out of the way.
“I want to be kind of a fly on the wall with this rotation and just try to help out the best that I can.”
Lester made 12 starts for the Cubs in 2020’s truncated 60-game campaign, posting a 5.16 ERA, a 5.14 FIP, 17 walks (2.51 BB/9), and 42 strikeouts (6.20 K/9) in 61 innings pitched, holding opposing hitters to a combined .262/.318/.459 line.
In his last full season in 2019, the left-hander was (13-10) in 31 starts with a 4.46 ERA, a 4.26 FIP, 52 walks (2.73 BB/9), 165 Ks (8.65 K/9) and a .294/.345/.470 line against in 171 2⁄3 IP.
The Nationals noted in a press release on Lester’s deal that, “... since the start of the 2016 season, Lester has 55 starts of at least 6.0 innings and one or fewer earned runs allowed, the third-most in Major League Baseball during that span behind only Jacob deGrom (60) and Justin Verlander (58),” and the addition of a durable arm behind their top three would seem to be part of the motivation with the latest signing by GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office.
“From 2008 – his first full season in the Major Leagues – to 2019, Lester was the only pitcher to start at least 30 games in each of the 12 seasons,” the press release continued. “In 15 big league seasons, he is 193-111 with a 3.60 ERA, 15 complete games, and four shutouts across 424 games (423 starts) since 2006.”
What’s allowed him to be so durable?
“You know, I don’t know,” Lester admitted. “I would like to attribute it to my work ethic.
“I’d like to attribute it to the work I put in in the weight room and the arm care that I do in the offseason and in-season.
“I think a lot of it is luck. I just for whatever reason have been lucky to stay healthy and the little things that pop up during the season we’ve been able to minimize them, which always helps.
“Any time those little things pop up and you don’t take care of them, they can turn into some big things later on, so I feel like we stayed on top of that which has really, really helped me.
“But that’s really it, I think a lot of it, man, is just luck. I’ve just had really good luck with some things that have kind of popped up through the years that really turned out to be nothing and stuff that you could pitch through and kind of minimize as you went through, so yeah, I think part of it is the work in the weight room and part of it is a little bit of luck.”
The Nationals are hoping that luck continues in 2021, when Lester will be reunited with his one-time bench coach in Chicago, current Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez, the new pitching coach in D.C., Jim Hickey, who worked with the lefty in 2017 with the Cubs, and his former teammate in the Windy City, Kyle Schwarber, who signed in Washington earlier this winter.
“I think that’s what kind of helped the fit,” Lester said of all the familiar faces he’ll see in his new clubhouse.
“I think that’s what helped the decision process maybe go a little bit smoother — is having those guys. You’ve got [former Red Sox’ coach and current Nationals’ bench coach Tim Bogar] over there, you’ve got Greg Barajas, one of the trainers, [Director of Training] Paul Lessard, obviously Davey and Jim Hickey, and then having Schwarbs is a big help. But yeah. I talked to Davey — once Schwarbs kind of got over there, I put a little note to him saying, ‘Hey, man, love to still be your teammate.’ Just kind of kidding around type of deal, but talking to those guys — once this became a thing I reached out to some of the guys and just wanted to talk to them. I reached out to some of the guys that I know that played there in the past, and wanted to get their feedback, but yeah, obviously when you know people it makes coming into a whole new environment a lot easier. Not only players, but the management. I know these guys and they know me, so they know what to expect of me, and I know what to expect of them, so that makes the whole kind of guessing thing early on a lot easier. But yeah, that definitely helped the process. The communication was a huge part of it.”