Washington’s Nationals highlighted Jon Lester’s durability in the press release on the left-hander signing what is reportedly a one-year/$5M free agent deal with the ballclub in the nation’s capital, noting that in the time he’s been in the majors, “[f]rom 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,” and mentioning that the southpaw made all 12 of his scheduled starts in 2020, finishing the 60-game season with 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 on the year.
Asked what has allowed him to stay competitive on the mound well into his mid-30s, Lester said it’s been a combination of hard work and good luck.
“I would like to attribute it to my work ethic,” the 37-year-old, 15-year veteran told reporters in the nation’s capital in his introductory Zoom call this week.
“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.”
Has the offseason work he does changed at all this winter, after 2020’s odd, truncated run, which saw him throw just 61 innings overall?
Does the lessened work load change how he’s approaching his offseason? Will it affect how he’s handled and how much he can throw next season?
“I don’t think it does,” Lester said. “I think once you kind of pitch a big league season you kind of know what it is and I think your body knows what it is. Every year has changed for me as far as what I’m doing to try to stay durable and try to pitch as many starts as I can, just as you get older things change.
“You can’t do the things that you once did when you’re 23-24.
“That always changes, but I think going into next season, I think the guys that have done this for a long time, kind of their bodies know what to expect. So I don’t think there’s going to be — I hope there’s no kind of hold-backs. I think we’re all kind of old enough to where we’re past the inning limitations and stuff like that, so I’m sure [manager] Davey [Martinez] and those guys will do a good job of early on maybe getting us ramped up and getting us ready, but I think once we kind of get our feet under us kind of let us go and see where we can take us.”
So in spite of the low innings total in 2020, Lester said he’s approaching his offseason work the way he would any other winter.
“For the most part it’s been a pretty normal winter,” he said. “Right now I’m throwing. I’ve actually thrown a few more pens than I have in the past to this point.
“Usually I kind of wait till the first week or the week before Spring Training to get on the mound, but there was some things that popped up last year that I needed to work on and needed to fix, and so I got on there a little bit sooner, so I’m excited about that.
“I feel like I’m in a good place physically on the mound and just a normal offseason as far as the workouts and getting ready for hopefully a start date that’s here in the next couple weeks.”
His focus this offseason, as he heads into what will be his 16th big league campaign, and as he gets closer to becoming just the 30th left-hander in MLB history to record 200 wins?
“Just a lot of flexibility stuff. I know that kind of sounds weird — doing it off the mound, but just some stuff I had some limitations with last year just with a little turn and things I was working on,” Lester explained.
“We’ve been kind of implementing some strengthening exercises along with mound work to try to get me kind of in these positions I need to be in at this point in my career, so just stuff like that.
“It really is kind of minimal things, but at the end — kind of end result when you release the ball it becomes a big thing if you’re not in those good positions.”
He did acknowledge that the 2020 campaign was unlike any other season he’s participated in, with Spring Training 1.0 ending in mid-March before things started again early in July for a quick ramp-up to the delayed start of the shortened schedule.
His experience of the season overall?
“I would kind of compare it to like an extended version of the playoffs,” the three-time World Series champion said.
“You know, I feel like that mental toll, that once you start the playoffs and you go from Day 1 of the playoffs to Game 7 or whatever of the World Series, mentally you don’t realize how draining it is until you’re done. And I think last year was that. It was two months of just kind of that mental grind of the testing, worrying about the testing, making sure you’re doing all the right things, and then having to play games, and then you’ve got no fans so you’ve got to try to amp yourself up, you know, all of these outside things that you’re not really used to dealing with, and then when it was all said and done you kind of look back and go, ‘God, that was the longest 60 games I think I’ve ever been a part of.’ So, I kind of compare it to that, just more or less kind of an extended playoff scenario.”
His goal in 2021 is to get back to the postseason for the tenth time in his career, as he tries for a fourth World Series ring.
“I want to win,” he said of what keeps him motivated to continue working towards the end of what’s been a successful career in the majors.
“I still have the drive to win. I want to bring another ring to D.C., and hopefully we can do that. But it just seemed like a great group of guys.
“Playing against these guys for the past couple of years, just how much fun they have across the way. I know Davey brings an element to that.
“It’s definitely a place that you sit across the dugout and say that would be cool to be a part of, and I’m excited for that.”