Jon Lester told reporters after his 5 1⁄3-inning, 86-pitch outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates last week that he made some adjustments heading into the start after struggling to go deep in his previous two turns in the rotation.
“Made some adjustments, and was able to kind of get back to some of the place that I was earlier when I came back,” Lester explained, “... so it was better results, would have liked some quicker innings early on, and we managed to get through it and kind of navigate our way through.”
The work the 37-year-old lefty did was just building on what he’s been focused on all season in his first year with the Nationals.
“Mechanical stuff that — just little things that make the biggest difference as far as — we talked about earlier in spring just with some velo and the way the ball is coming out,” he said.
“So, we saw that tonight, which was good. It’s nice to look up there and see some of the numbers that you would prefer to see, and the work is getting there.”
Lester followed up on that outing with a solid showing Saturday night in the nation’s capital, pitching into the seventh in the second game of the doubleheader with the New York Mets.
Lester kept the visiting team off the board until the seventh, when he came out looking for an abbreviated complete game and gave up a leadoff single and two-run home run, on his 100th pitch of the game, a season-high for the 37-year-old southpaw. He did, however, get his first win of the year, in his 10th start, not that he was too concerned about the personal wins.
“I grew up in the game as a starting pitcher — you want that W next to your name,” Lester said. “Obviously back when we used to read papers and stuff like that, but even still on the internet, you want your name next to that W, and even the times you get the Ls, that’s why you’re a starting pitcher I guess is what I’m trying to say. And Ws mean a lot. But like I said I think it was last time or the time before, at the end of the day a W for the team is what matter the most, and I feel like I’ve been okay in at least putting us in some good positions to at least win games, and that’s the main thing. The Ws next to my name will fall and they’ll take care of themselves, but it’s not something that I lose sleep over at night as far as not getting any Ws for myself. Like I said, the team is No. 1.”
His teammates were happy to see him get the first curly-W since joining the Nationals on a 1-year/$5M free agent deal though.
“I mean, that was big,” Kyle Schwarber said, after homering twice in support of his one-time Cubs and current Nationals teammate in Saturday’s game.
“I know the way that he competes and the way that he goes out there, and he wants the ball. And he wants to run that pitch count up there, and he wants to keep us in game for us to score runs, and he’s been doing that, and finally today we were able to get him some runs there to where he can just go out there and do his thing, and you know what, the homer, whatever, I was out there, I’m just saying, ‘Hey, just let them hit it,’ and I’m sure that’s what he said too, ‘Just let him hit it.’ And you know, it is what it is, but I think he pitched one heck of a ballgame, and that’s what I’ve seen from Jon for how many years now.”
Davey Martinez, whose time in Chicago overlapped with Lester’s as well, talked after the outing about what the veteran starter still has to offer when he’s at his best.
“When Lester can throw strikes and command the strike zone, I’ve seen it many times,” the manager said, “he can go through hitters. He had good stuff, his stuff was electric tonight. He got out of a jam, and he threw the ball well. He had the changeup working, the curveball, the cutter was good, like I said, he threw the ball and he threw them all over for strikes.”
The decision to send Lester back out for the seventh was an easy one for the fourth-year skipper, who saw that his starter wanted to go for the complete game.
“It would have meant a lot,” Martinez said. “Here’s a guy that’s done it for a very long time. Like I said, he’s a competitor, he’s a winner, when he comes out after that sixth inning and says he wants the ball, you got to trust him at that moment, and I did. But he knew, and he understood that the minute he gave up some runs he was going to come out of the game, and we had to pull him out there and he understood that.”
“We were hoping that he got that shutout,” he added, “and when he gave up the runs that was it. I mean, we had somebody warming up and we thought that was good for him. But like I said, a big outing for us, kept us in the game, pitched well, he got his first win as a Nat, so it’s a good night.”
Lester said he was happy to just get some length on the mound, pitching into the seventh for the first time this year, in his 16th big league campaign.
“It was good to get up to kind of that number,” he said of the 100 pitches he threw.
“You know, I don’t want to say magic number, but it seems like that’s what the number is nowadays when it comes to pitching.
“Obviously I wouldn’t have got there if it wasn’t for the offense.
“They came up big, Schwarbs again hitting homers when I pitch, which, any time he hits a homer is great, but especially when I pitch it’s always nice to see.
“Lot of good at bats, coming back from this afternoon and getting that W tonight was big for us.”
Though Joe Ross struggled in the first game of the twin bill on Saturday, Lester and the rest of the Nationals’ starters have been on a roll in recent weeks, and he said he was just glad he could keep it going.
“I think any time you get a rotation going,” Lester said, “and the next guy just kind of falls in line and pitches well, then the next guy kind of fall in line and pitches well, you kind of feed off of each other, and you don’t want to be that guy that doesn’t throw the ball that well. So you just — it’s just like hitting, it’s contagious.
“Your staff kind of starts rolling and it falls onto the next guy and then kind of get on a little bit of a roll.
“Hopefully we can continue to do that. I think maybe two turns around, one and a half turns around, or whatever, we’ve thrown the ball really well, so hopefully we can continue to do that.”