Jon Lester, after surgery this spring, and a trip to the COVID-IL before Opening Day, finally made his 2021 debut tonight, tossing 5.0 scoreless on 70 pitches in his first outing for the Washington Nationals, with whom he signed a 1-year/$5M free agent deal this winter.
Lester kept the Miami Marlins off the board through five innings, but Fish righty Pablo López was sharp and efficient as well, matching the Nationals’ starter through five, and hanging on a bit longer, with seven scoreless overall on 79 pitches in an impressive outing.
This one was decided in extras with the Fish pushing a free runner across to ruin a perfectly good 0-0 game, 1-0 Marlins after nine and a half, before Kyle Schwarber hit a walk-off blast for a 2-1 Nats’ win.
Lester vs Marlins: Jon Lester made three starts this spring, but surgery to remove one of four parathyroid glands and a stint on the COVID-IL set the 15-year veteran back as he built his arm up for season No. 16 in the majors and his first year with the Nationals after signing a 1-year/$5M free agent deal with Washington this winter.
Lester struggled through twelve starts in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign, putting up a 5.16 ERA, a 5.14 FIP, 17 walks, 42 strikeouts, and a .262/.318/.459 line against on the year.
The 37-year-old southpaw finally got to take the mound in D.C. for the first time tonight.
In spite of the health concerns this spring, Martinez said that Lester remained upbeat.
“He’s upbeat all the time,” the manager said.
“He felt good, came to Spring Training, had a little procedure done with his [parathyroid gland], and then he came back and he said he felt really good. We’re just excited that hopefully he’s beyond all this, and he’s going to come back and start his career here with the Nationals today, and go from there.
“He’s just another veteran guy, a veteran starter that [GM Mike] Rizzo and I thought could help us win many games and help us get to where we wanted to get to, and that’s another postseason and another World Series, so I’m excited to watch him go out and compete today.”
Lester tossed four scoreless to start, on 55 pitches, giving up four hits and a walk (IBB). He gave up a one-out double in the fifth, and walked Jesús Aguilar intentionally after falling behind 2-0 with the runner on second, but he got an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play in the next at bat and completed five scoreless on 70 pitches in his 2021 debut.
Jon Lester’s Line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 70 P, 46 S, 8/3 GO/FO.
López vs the Nationals: With the exception of a rough four-inning outing against Atlanta’s Braves in which he gave up nine hits and six earned runs, Marlins’ righty Pablo López had held opposing teams to two runs or fewer in four of five starts this season before tonight.
And it was not just this season.
The 25-year-old right held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 13 of 16 regular season starts before tonight, dating back to to the start of the 2020 season, as the Fish mentioned in their pregame notes.
He took the mound in the nation’s capital with a 2.93 ERA, a 3.05 FIP, eight walks, 32 Ks, and a .212/.268/.346 line against in 27 2⁄3 IP early this season.
López cruised through five scoreless on 58 pitches, giving up just three hits and two walks, but he gave up back-to-back, one-out singles by Josh Harrison and Yadiel Hernández in the sixth, then got an inning-ending 6-4-3 DP out of Starlin Castro to complete six scoreless on 67 pitches.
Kyle Schwarber singled with one out in the seventh, but Alex Avila grounded into an inning-ending 3-6-3 DP in the next AB. Seven scoreless on 79 pitches.
Pablo López’s Line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 Ks, 79 P, 50 S, 7/2 GO/FO.
Hot Bats: Marlins’ first baseman Jesús Aguilar came into the series with five home runs over his last six games, and the Fish, citing info from Elias Sports Bureau, noted he’s, “... the first Marlins player to hit that many homers over a six-game span since Giancarlo Stanton did it several times in 2017.”
Aguilar connected for a single in the third, but went homer-less in the series opener in D.C.
Yadiel Hernández was back in the lineup tonight, after sitting out of Wednesday’s matchup with lefty Steven Matz on the mound for Toronto’s Blue Jays, but Hernández returned trying to continue a stretch of three consecutive multi-hit games dating to April 24th, over which he was 6 for 11 (.545 AVG). He singled twice to extend that streak to four-straight multi-hit games, and added a third hit in the ninth (3 for 4).
Bullpen Action: Kyle Finnegan took over on the mound for Jon Lester in the top of the sixth, and the righty gave up a one-out single by Lewis Brinson and a two-out walk to Sandy Leon, but Sam Clay took over with Isan Díaz at the plate, and got a groundout to third base to end the threat and keep it a 0-0 game.
Tanner Rainey retired the Marlins in order in an 11-pitch seventh.
Daniel Hudson got the eighth and retired the side in order in a 13-pitch frame.
Anthony Bass gave up a leadoff single by Victor Robles, but got a 4-6-3 DP out of Andrew Stevenson in the at bat that followed. Trea Turner sent one to the track in left-center field, but if fell there for out No. 3 of a 15-pitch frame.
Brad Hand walked the first batter he faced in the top of the ninth, Jon Berti, but one out later, Josh Harrison caught a liner to second and the Nationals got out No. 3 at first base, after throwing to second ... and after Trea Turner threw it back to first, and Josh Bell, and Bell tossed it to Hand, but then they realized that Harrison caught the liner, and Hand threw over to Bell again at first for the second out... uh. Yeah. So... 4-6-3-1-3 DP? Just go watch it:
Dylan Floro got the bottom of the ninth for the Marlins, and gave up a one-out single by Yadiel Hernández, who stole second with Starlin Castro at the plate, but was stranded.
This one went to extra innings ... and Hand returned to the mound for the top of the tenth, and after the Fish bunted the free runner at second over to third, and another IBB to Jesús Aguilar, Garrett Cooper hit a broken-bat RBI single to short left for the first run of the game, 1-0 Marlins.
Yimi Garcia took over in the bottom of the tenth and gave up a walk-off home run by Kyle Schwarber on a 96 MPH 0-1 fastball. Ballgame. 2-1 Nationals.
Final Score: 2-1 Nationals
Nationals now 10-12