Washington Nationals’ starter Jon Lester allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his past five starts going into last night’s outing against the Miami Marlins in loadDepot park, with a 2.55 ERA, seven walks, 17 strikeouts, and a .267/.315/.436 line against in 24 2⁄3 innings on the mound over that stretch.
The veteran lefty, in his 16th big league season, earned his first win of the 2021 campaign the last time out before taking on the Marlins, in a 6-2 win over the New York Mets in the nation’s capital in which he gave up a total of seven hits and two earned runs in six innings pitched.
It didn’t take too long for him to realize he just didn’t have it last night, however.
“Probably batter No. 3,” Lester said, in identifying when he realized it was going to be a bad night, after what ended up a 2 1⁄3-inning outing against the Nationals’ NL East rivals.
“For whatever reason started off well, and then couldn’t find the strike zone with [Starling] Marte, and couldn’t find the strike zone really at all after that for whatever reason. Felt comfortable in the first batter, and then after that it was like I just lost all feel for really anything and everything I was trying to do. Put Yan [Gomes] in a bad situation back there, just not really anything we could go to to get a strike or get kind of back into counts or get bad contact, so it was just crappy all around on my part.”
Lester walked Marte with one out in the bottom of the first, walked Garrett Cooper in the next at bat, gave up an RBI single by Adam Duvall, then a three-run home run by Miguel Rojas, 4-0, and after a 1-2-3 second, he returned to the mound in the third in a 4-2 game, and gave up a leadoff double, walk, and RBI single in quick succession, 5-2, and 6-2 on a second RBI double in the inning.
He recorded the first out of the third inning, but with two on, was lifted at that point.
Jon Lester’s Line: 2.1 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1 HR, 64 P, 35 S, 5/2 GO/FO.
“He fell behind a lot of hitters,” manager Davey Martinez said after what ended up being an 11-2 loss. “His breaking ball wasn’t as sharp, you know, and when you fall behind hitters, like I said, these guys are good hitters, they put the ball in play, so it just wasn’t a good night.”
This outing coming after such a positive start against the Mets just added to the frustration.
“I thought he was going to have a similar start as he had last time,” Martinez said, “he just couldn’t throw strikes. He doesn’t typically walk guys, he really doesn’t, he’s always around the plate. Today he just — he got behind hitters, they took some good swings off him, they stayed back on some of his breaking pitches as well, so like I said, when he gets behind like that, he’s got to throw strikes, and a couple good swings, he gave up a home run early, and after that just things didn’t work out for him.”
The inconsistency of his performances this season, Lester said, with some blow-ups after he seems like he’s getting it together, has been particularly frustrating, especially because he’s not sure what’s going wrong start to start.
“I really don’t know. I wish I knew. I feel like when I do have a good one the next one isn’t great, and I don’t know what the reason for that is,” Lester explained.
“If I did, I would obviously try to make the next one better, but I don’t know. It’s just kind of the trend I’ve been in. I don’t know what it is. Physically I feel good. Maybe just like any other night, you’re not always going to be perfect mechanically, but tonight was just — for whatever reason — was just off. Never felt comfortable with the ball in my had, never felt comfortable with anything we were trying to do. I can chalk that up more as one of those nights as opposed to some of the other ones that have kind of occurred to this point where I felt okay, I felt like we needed to make some adjustments and I didn’t do that and put myself in a position to fail. So, tonight, like I said, I pigeonholed myself, fell behind in too many counts, wasn’t locating my changeup. My curveball was okay. And when you don’t really have anything other than a fastball to either side of the plate, like I said, they can pigeonhole you, they can make you come to them and that’s what they did to me tonight.”
Eleven starts into his 1-year/$5M deal with the Nationals, however, Lester said he can’t use the fact that he had surgery to remove a parathyroid gland in Spring Training, then had to go on the COVID-IL before Opening Day, as an excuse for his struggles.
“You can’t really fall back on that anymore,” he said. “It should be better than this, it should be a little more consistent than this is what I should say, as opposed to better. You’re going to have bumps in the road, you’re going to have starts where you have to grind through, but the simple fact of me just going from one start pitching well, going deeper into the game, to the next start really not doing a whole lot, it’s very, very frustrating. It’s not only frustrating for me, it’s I’m sure frustrating for my teammates, and frustrating for Davey. It puts our bullpen in a bad situation. And that’s the thing that I’ve been kind of waiting — it’s like, okay, I have a good one, let’s get the next one. The next one doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be great, it just needs to be quality, I need to throw some innings, I need to not walk guys. I can live with hits all day, I can live with homers all day, it’s the nonsense of wasted pitches, wasted time, walking guys, free passes, and that’s where — throughout my whole career it’s gotten me in trouble.”