It took a while, after he had surgery to remove one of four parathyroid glands this spring, and then ended up on the COVID-IL before Opening Day, but Jon Lester, who signed a 1-year/$11M deal with the Washington Nationals this winter, finally made his 2021 debut last week in the nation’s capital.
Lester tossed five scoreless, working around five hits and two walks in a 2-1 win over the Miami Marlins in which he received no decision.
What kept him going over the weeks of building back up following the time away from the team?
“Getting ready for today,” Lester said after making the first start of his 16th MLB campaign.
“I think, obviously I didn’t know that in the back of my head when all this stuff was going down and whatnot, you just kind of always try to have that end date, that first start back and working towards that, and one thing I’ve always tried to do throughout my whole career, is just — whatever today is, so if that’s Day 1, it’s that, work on that. Day 2, and so forth and so on. The unfortunate part about being a starting pitcher is your life is very structured, but at the same time it’s a good thing.
“So I had that to fall back on, kind of dive into the routine of getting ready to pitch whether that was today, or however many days in front us, but just really looking forward to today.”
He was also happy to get his first outing with his new team out of the way.
“I’m glad that today is over. It was awesome to get out there and be a part of it, but like I said, at the same time to get the first one out of the way is huge for me.”
Start No. 2 for Lester began with three scoreless innings on the mound in Nationals Park against the Atlanta Braves, but Ronald Acuña, Jr. singled to start the fourth, stole second in the next at bat and took third on a throwing error by Yan Gomes, then came in (after an Ozzie Albies’ walk) on an RBI double to left by Marcell Ozuna, who lined a first-pitch cutter to left, 1-0.
Albies made it over to third base on Ozuna’s hit, but Lester picked up back-to-back Ks for the first two outs of the frame, before two more scored on a two-out single to center field by Ehire Adrianza, who hit a first-pitch sinker back up the middle, 3-0.
Lester tossed a scoreless fifth, but a leadoff single by Albies in the sixth ended his outing in what ended up a 3-2 loss in which he took the L.
Jon Lester’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 85 P, 57 S, 3/4 GO/FO.
How did he the 37-year-old feel in start No. 2?
“A little bit better today,” Lester said in his post game Zoom call with reporters. “Felt like it was a little bit more crisp. Cutter was better to both sides, felt like I had a little bit better life to my heater. Just made a couple mistakes there. That one to Ozuna, wish I could have back, I shook to that one, and I felt like I made a good pitch, he put a good better swing on it, and then I think it was the next guy up or the guy after him or whatever that got the base hit up the middle for the two runs. That was tough there, but as far as stuff I felt like it was a lot better today.”
“He threw the ball well,” manager Davey Martinez said.
“He got one ball — the ball that Ozuna hit, it was three inches inside, he pulled his hands in and was able to keep it fair. But I thought he threw the ball really well. Unfortunately for the double, but other than that he kept the ball down for the most part of the day and he was effective.”
Lester got 11 swinging strikes, spread out over four of his five pitches pretty evenly, and got 13 called strikes, 11 with his cutter, which he threw for 58% of his total offerings.
The two-out hit by Adrianza, on a first-pitch sinker up in the zone, was the real painful one, after he came close to escaping a second and third, no-out jam with just the one run in.
“Yeah, I think it was the right pitch, just didn’t execute it. I left it up enough to allow him to get under it as opposed to on top of it, it was a sinker away, and just kind of flat and up. If I execute that I still like our game plan there what we were trying to do.
“I got the two big outs there, and just couldn’t really finish that inning. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to execute that pitch and get that ground ball or fly ball or whatever, just left it up a little too flat for him.”