Through five starts and 25 1⁄3 innings pitched this season, Jon Lester, 37, is (0-2), with a 5.33 ERA, 4.93 FIP, 10 walks (3.55 BB/9), and 18 Ks (6.39 K/9).
Asked after he faced the Baltimore Orioles in D.C. last week, giving up five hits and six runs in four innings, what he wanted to correct going forward, Lester told reporters, “Results.”
“You know, I think that’s No. 1. I can sit here until I’m blue in the face and tell you all that I feel like I’m throwing the ball better than what the last two line scores have said, but that will get me nowhere,” the veteran in his 16th MLB campaign explained.
“It’s just a matter of keep building, keep getting the work done, encouraged by what I’m doing in my bullpens. I’m encouraged by what I’m bringing into starts, and as far as trying to execute a game plan. Just — like last start and this start, the homer hurt me. And if you keep the ball in the ballpark, it gives our guys a chance — obviously it worked out for us today, but in the long run it gives our guys a chance.”
After keeping the ball in the yard in his first three starts and 16 IP this season, Lester gave up three in 5 1⁄3 IP in the one-time Chicago Cubs’ starter’s return to his old home in Wrigley Field earlier this month, and he gave up one in a four-inning outing against the Orioles in Nationals Park last time out.
Davey Martinez, who was the bench coach with the Cubs while Lester was there, and is, of course, now the manager in D.C., talked at length before the southpaw’s outing against the Orioles, about what the Nationals saw from the left-hander when they were considering the lefty as a target in free agency over the winter.
“The biggest thing when we looked a lot of his stuff from the last year and a half, two years, before we got him, was the ball was up,” Martinez said.
“He was trying to throw a lot of balls up, and he lost some velo. And when we signed him, we really talked to him about focusing on keeping everything down.
“His changeup is better when it’s down, his two-seamer is better when it’s down, and his cutter is better when it’s down.
“With that being said, he’s such a student of the game, and understands hitters, that he knows when he has to elevate the cutter, which sometimes plays as well.
“But for me it was just a matter of getting him — when he was really good at one point, even when he was throwing hard, he threw the ball down. His two-seamer was really — at 92-93, his two-seamer was really good, and he had a four-seamer that he could elevate on lefties.
“So for us, it’s just a matter of just having him continue to keep the ball down, and I think it’s helped him out a lot. He’s got a lot more swings early in the count, which allows his pitch count to be a lot lower. He’s been pitching well for us. I mean, when you get a guy like him, a veteran guy that can give us five-plus innings, that’s awesome. That’s kind of what we ask him to do. There’s going to be days where he’s going to get through that seventh inning for us.”
The relatively slow start to the season for Lester, his manager said, is probably at least in part related to the issues he dealt with in Spring Training and early in the regular season.
“You got to remember also too that he had that little procedure done in spring, so he’s really just now — he’s getting back — we got him back as soon as we possibly could, and he’s just now getting back on his feet, he’s got a lot more energy, he feels good, so that’s great. I’m assuming that he’ll start getting better and better and he can get through that six-plus innings.”
The Nationals shared their thoughts on what they saw from Lester at this stage in his career when they pursued him and Martinez said he’s liked what he’s seen in terms of adjustments.
“We keep track on what’s transpired over his games here, and for the most part when he’s down, he’s been effective,” Martinez said, before last night’s game was postponed by the inclement weather in the nation’s capital.
“His changeup works better when it’s down,” the skipper continued.
“His cutter works better when it’s down, on occasion to certain hitters he can get his cutter up, but his curveball plays when it’s down in the zone as well.
“This is something that I knew of him early on, and watched him last year, and then watched some videos and we discussed with our analytical people, where if we can get him to get the ball down, it plays well. We’re not really concerned about him striking guys out, but we’re just worried about — his contact rate when it’s down, they don’t tend to hit the ball as hard as when it’s up. And he took well to that and he’s been going out there, like I said, he’s been trying to get the ball down. On occasion, on certain hitters, you want to throw the ball up and he understands that, but for the most part he’s been doing well by keeping the ball down.”
How, if at all, has Lester changed since the two of them were with the Cubs together from 2015-17?
“He’s the same guy, he really is,” Martinez said. “He’s a competitor and he competes and he loves to win. That’s what I know about him, and that’s what he brings every day here. And he’s done well. He’s had one or two innings where he didn’t fare well, but he’s pitched well. The other day he gave up five runs, but he kept us in the ballgame, we were able to come through and win that game. He’s a veteran guy that I respect very much because of, one the person he is and what he’s been through, but yet the competitiveness in him that he wants to help us win every time he’s out there.”