Jon Lester, 37, returned to the mound around two weeks after having surgery to remove one of four parathyroid glands, throwing two innings of work on 31 pitches, in his initial start this spring in a Grapefruit League outing.
Talking following that appearance last week, the 15-year veteran, who signed a 1-year/$5M deal with the Washington Nationals this winter, said he felt good physically in his first test post-surgery.
“Physically felt good,” Lester said.
“Kind of build from here physically, I think. The stuff, felt like I had times where it was good, and other times maybe a little flat on a couple of the pitches.
“For the most part, like I said, first time was good to get up and down a couple times too.”
The plan for start No. 2 on Tuesday afternoon, manager Davey Martinez said, was to get up to four innings in.
“Lester is going to go — he’s going to get four ups,” the skipper explained. “Stretch him out to about 60 pitches or so. We’ll see how it goes. With that being said, we can get him up if he throws 20 pitches in one inning, we can take him out, put another guy in and bring him back the next inning, so it’s kind of nice we can get these guys their work in that way.”
They didn’t need to go through with any of that.
Lester retired the side in order in the first inning of the matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, FL’s Roger Dean Stadium, throwing 13 pitches in the home half of the frame, then he returned to the mound with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of a solo homer by Kyle Schwarber, and worked around a one-out walk and stolen base in a 14-pitch frame which left him at 27 total in two scoreless.
Lester recovered from a two-out dropped ball in foul territory off first by Josh Bell, and the inevitable hit which followed in a 13-pitch third, stranding the only runner to reach base in that inning, and he returned to the mound at 40 pitches in the fourth, and issued a leadoff walk to Nolan Arenado, who took second on a Paul DeJong single, third on a single by Tyler O’Neill, and scored on a sac fly to center, 1-1.
Lester got a force at second for the second out of the frame, and was done for the day after 51 pitches.
Asked if what his goals were in the outing after he was done for the day, Lester said it was just to throw pitches and build up strength.
“Just pitches really, innings, getting up and down. We’re kind of, I don’t want to say, ‘Behind the eight-ball,’ but we’re just trying to get those pitches up to where we get in the season and we don’t have to really worry about it. So, that was kind of the main goal. Obviously I’ve faced these guys a lot, so there’s not much to hide or anything like that, but was able to continue to work on some things.
“I don’t think today was as sharp as the other day, but like I said, it was a good day to build off, just see the innings and the up/downs and get those pitches up real good.”
The next step for Lester if he wants to be ready for the start of the regular season?
“I think what we’re hopefully shooting for is maybe two more,” Lester said, “before I slot in there somewhere, but yeah, I think if we need to jump, we’ll jump. I don’t think the workload will be that much different. And also too, the game will dictate that, like today I was able to get up to 50, not a lot of stress, a few walks, but was able to kind of maintain that. I think it just kind of depends on the game, how the whole thing goes, and then we’ll kind of figure it out.
“I think the big thing was to get through this one, and then we build on this and we’ll kind of evaluate after the next one.”
“We’re going to have to be creative to get him that,” Martinez said of the possibility of two more starts before the season starts on April 1st. “He’ll definitely have one more, to get him that other one, but we feel — and I’m going to talk to him again and see how he feels about getting another start in there. I thought he threw the ball — I know the velo is going to come back. He was 89, touched 90 a few times, but what I liked about it was he was down in the zone. When he’s down in the zone he’s pretty effective. His changeup was really good. His curveball not so much, but I think that will come. So, but the fact that he was able to locate his fastball and his changeup was good. That stuff plays, and he knows what he’s doing out there. I’m happy to see him go out there and compete the way he did, and when he came out of the game he felt very, very good about his outing and very positive.”
Lester didn’t think his curve was very good either.
“Changeup was once again pretty decent and then curveball still stinks, so I need to figure out that and get that kind of rolling back in there, so a few things to build on.”