What were the conditions or symptoms which led Jon Lester to decide to take some time in the middle of Spring Training to have surgery to remove one of four parathyroid glands?
Lester, 37, said a number of factors played into the decision, it was something he had been monitoring for a while, but in the end it was about not having energy he thought he should have and wanting to be at his best to help the Washington Nationals, the club he signed a one-year/$5M free agent deal with this winter.
“I thought I was getting older and getting slower, a little more sluggish, and all that stuff. So, this last year was pretty tough for me as far as just energy level,” Lester explained in a Zoom call with reporters from West Palm Beach, FL on Wednesday morning. “The desire to work out — I love working out and it was hard for me just to do stuff that I wanted to do. And so I started kind of reaching out to some people and talking, and having conversations with guys that are my age, and that have done some stuff, and kind of figuring out that this isn’t the way I’m supposed to be feeling.”
Once he reached that conclusion, Lester started asking around, and got into the process of scheduling the procedure, which, in the midst of a pandemic, was not as simple as it might normally have been.
“I wanted to get this done before I got here,” Lester said, “but because of COVID and all these hoops you have to jump through, it got pushed back, but this has been a work in progress for a while, unfortunately, it took us into camp, and got us here where I’m a little bit behind the eight-ball now.”
He’s behind the eight-ball because he still wants to get ready for the start of the season with his new team, though he acknowledged that in his role as a back-end guy in the rotation, he knew that he could look after his own best interest without undermining the best interest of the club.
“The fortunate part about all this is,” he said, “I’m in the back side of this rotation, so I don’t have to be ready for that first day or whatever, but I think — I had two BPs under me, I know I took a few days off of doing anything, but I played catch yesterday, felt good. I think really the big thing is just the incision on my neck and making sure that that thing doesn’t pop open, but as far as my arm and body, I feel like I could ramp right back up and be right there.
“I may be a tick behind, but I think we can kind of catch up on the back side of that rotation.”
Since returning to Spring Training this past Monday, Lester has done some stretching, he’s played catch, and done shoulder and leg work, but the next step will be throwing for real.
“It’s just a matter of getting his flexibility back a little bit on his neck, and getting some strength back,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez explained. “Once that happens, he should be ready to start throwing here as soon as we get that done. But I feel like, he’s a little bit ahead of the game right now, because his body feels so good, but we don’t want to put a timeline on him when it comes to going on the mound. We want to make sure that he’s totally healthy because he was in a good place before he had the surgery. He was throwing the ball really well, so we want to make sure we continue that, and when he comes back nothing changes mechanically, and he’s able to get on the mound without worrying about any other issues.”
Lester said that he already felt better, and some of the symptoms that led him to look into if it was something other than getting old, have already disappeared post-surgery.
“I do feel a little bit different,” the southpaw said. “I know the doc said it would probably be about a week before kind of everything starts settling back in, but as far as just my energy level throughout the day, I feel better. Like before, I know I would get — not necessarily during the workouts, or while I was here, but going home, you’d feel kind of sluggish and tired and all that stuff. I think too the big thing is kind of your brain telling you you can do something or you want to do something, and I think that’s been a big switch in my head since I’ve been back. It’s just the desire to want to work out.
“I enjoy that aspect of my job, so when that was a red flag for me when I’d have to drag myself into the gym to get going. So, yeah, the energy level has been great.
“Monday was kind of just get here, see some faces, and move around a little bit. Yesterday, we went through some stuff and I felt really good doing, it, so I think going forward it’s only going to go up.”
“So far he says he feels unbelievable,” Martinez said of the changes he’s seen in the pitcher he’s been reunited with this spring after the two spent time together in Chicago when they were both with the Cubs.
“No fatigue, he’s going through is workouts. Says he definitely feels like he’s got a lot more energy when he’s done with his workouts, so that’s great.”
“I feel, like I said, I would just kind of equate it to being aged and having innings and stuff like that,” Lester continued in discussing what led to his decision to seek help and then to eventually have surgery.
“There would be times where I’d run out in the fifth, sixth, seventh inning, and feel like I hit a brick wall. There [were] times last year where I would come out of the bullpen, and be like, ‘Did I pitch the game already?’ Just thinking that maybe I need to do a little bit extra in the weight room, maybe I need to run a little bit more, maybe I need to do 20 extra minutes on cardio or whatever. When in all actuality, this thing was slowing me down.
“I don’t know how well you know me or have seen me pitch, but I sweat a lot, and that’s a factor of this, so hopefully I can get rid of that a little bit and stop sweating so much and hold some electrolytes, and hold some water, and be able to stay hydrated through my start.”
The last time he felt as good as he does now?
“A while ago,” Lester said.
“I couldn’t put a date on it, but I know that I’m excited just to know that the work that I’m putting in is going to get me to where I need to be.
“I think that’s where the frustrating part was the last year or so, is I felt like I was doing the same if not more work and I wasn’t getting results on the mound. And I don’t mean the outs and the ERA and all that stuff, I mean just physically being able to perform and feel good about walking off the mound, like I did everything I needed to do to get to this point, and I’ve never questioned that in my career, and I was questioning that last year, and I think that’s what led to a lot of these questions that I needed answers for this offseason.”