In an emotional outing in his former home this week, Jon Lester gave up eight hits and five earned runs in 5 1⁄3 innings against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field.
It was a special start for the left-hander, who spent six seasons with the Cubbies, and was part of their curse-busting World Series win in 2016, but he wasn’t pleased with what was really an otherwise forgettable outing against the Cubs.
“I didn’t pitch great. I didn’t pitch terrible, I didn’t think,” Lester said, in explaining the fact that he didn’t acknowledge the ovation he received on the way off the mound.
“I can’t be tipping my hat walking off the field like that down 5-3 at that particular moment in the game,” he said. “So, is it appreciated? 100%. It’s a great moment. But I can’t do that being in the situation I’m in.”
That appearance left the 37-year-old southpaw with a 3.80 ERA, a 4.63 FIP, seven walks, 14 Ks, and a .291/.345/.468 line against in 21 1⁄3 IP so far this season, his first in D.C., after he signed a 1-year/$5M free agent deal with the Nationals this winter.
Back in his new home park Saturday afternoon, Lester’s manager in Washington, Davey Martinez, was hoping for a solid outing from the southpaw in the second of three with Baltimore’s Orioles.
“Jon has been pitching well, so I expect him to go out there and like I said before, keep us in the ballgame,” Martinez said.
“He’s been very effective, and he’s been throwing the ball down, which we like, his changeup has been really good.
“His cutter has been good when it’s been down in the zone. So he’s a veteran guy, he understands the game and prepares himself well before every outing.
“It’s going to be hot out there, that’s one thing that concerns me with Jon, but he’ll get through it and like I said, we hope that he keeps us in the game.”
Two relatively week hits, two walks, two strikeouts, and a grand slam later, Lester and the Nationals were down 5-0 in the top of the first against the Orioles.
Lester ended up throwing 36 pitches in the opening frame, and he had some stares for the home plate ump John Tumpane on his way off the mound after some close calls that went against the starter.
It was 5-1 in the third when Lester gave up back-to-back, one-out hits and another run, and a 25-pitch frame pushed him up to 68 after three, and it was 6-5 in the O’s favor (following a grand slam by Josh Harrison in the home-half of the third) when Lester came back out and retired the side in order in an 11-pitch fourth that ended his outing in what ended up a 12-9, come-from-behind win.
Jon Lester’s Line: 4.0 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 79 P, 50 S, 3/1 GO/FO.
Lester, the veteran in his 16th major league season, talked after the game about how he got refocused on the mound after the rough opening frame.
“Just try to make the most out of it. Try to tell yourself as much as you can that it’s 0-0 the next inning and kind of start over,” Lester said.
“It’s all you can really do. You can’t quit. So, got to keep going and trying to figure out a way.”
“It was a good win for us. The boys swung the bat,” Lester’s skipper said.
“I just want to say something about Jon Lester, because he could have just kind of fallen apart there, but that goes to show you what he can do. He’s a professional and he’s going to give us everything he’s got. He gave up five runs in the first inning, and he held it together, only gave up one more run after that. If he didn’t do that we would have been in bad shape.
“This is the reason why I like him, this is the reason why he’s here. Because he’ll give the innings you need, he’ll keep battling. Even if things go tough, he keeps battling and he kept us in the ballgame.”
“Kept them as close as I could,” Lester added.
“That’s all I really tried to do, is just try to minimize damage from there on, and try to pitch as many innings as I could.
“Unfortunately it was only four, but I would have like to have tried to figure out a way to maybe go one or two more after that, but obviously with the National League, and hitters, and all that stuff, Davey needed to make a move.”
Asked how the close calls that went against Lester early affected him, and how a starter can react to that situation, Martinez said you just have to keep doing what you do.
“You got to keep making your pitches,” he explained. “I always said I’m not going to really get on the umpire about balls and strikes, I respect those guys, and it’s a tough job, but some of those pitches were close, I’ll have to take a look at them, but like I said before, I’m proud of what Jon did. Even though he gave up five runs, he kept us in the game for as long as he could. We had to pinch hit for him in that moment. So, he did a great job to keep us there.”