“Tomorrow we’re going to go with Jon Lester,” Davey Martinez told reporters in his pregame Zoom call before Tuesday night’s matchup.
Washington’s starter for the third of four with the Atlanta Braves in Truist Park was TBD until Martinez made the announcement that Lester would go on short rest, after pitching last on Saturday, when he went just four innings in the second game of two in the doubleheader with the Milwaukee Brewers in D.C.
There was some consideration given to allowing Erick Fedde to go if he was ready, but after a significant amount of time on the COVID-IL, it didn’t work out.
“This was talked about after his last start,” Martinez said of the decision to go with Lester on just three days’ rest.
“Not having Fedde ready — we talked to [Lester] about going on short rest and he was okay with that. So we’ll start out with him and see how far he can take us.”
“He was totally fine with it,” Martinez added. “We asked him and he was all for it. So, like I said, I told him, I said, ‘Hey, take it as far as you can go.”
Talking before the game on Wednesday, the fourth-year skipper reiterated that the club just wanted/needed whatever length it could get from the veteran lefty.
“When we talked, before he’s going to go on short rest, we talked to him about it and he’s on no limitations,” Martinez said. “That’s one thing that he said, ‘Hey, I want to go out there and pitch and let me pitch. I‘ll get through it.’ Like I said, he’s a veteran guy, we’ll definitely keep an eye on him, but he doesn’t want to worry about only throwing 50-60-70 pitches, he just wants to go out there and pitch and we’ll see how far he can take us.”
Lester ended up making it through 5 2⁄3 innings, giving up five hits total, and just one run, on a solo home run by Dansby Swanson in the bottom of the second.
His second walk of the day, with two down in the sixth, ended his outing after 87 pitches total, 53 strikes, in a gutsy and desperately needed outing for the Nationals.
Tanner Rainey stranded the runner he inherited when he struck Guillermo Heredia out to end the sixth, leaving Lester in line for what would have been his first win in a Nationals uniform, but Daniel Hudson gave up two runs in the seventh and the Braves tied it up before the Nationals retook the lead in the eighth and added one in the ninth in what ended up a 5-3 win.
Jon Lester’s Line: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 87 P, 53 S, 10/3 GO/FO.
“He was really good,” Martinez told reporters after the second straight win in Atlanta. “Really good. He gave us everything we needed. He pitched on short rest, but like I said before, we had no limitations on him, and he got up to  pitches, and we were able to get our guys in from the bullpen and finish the game. But [Lester] did awesome. He mixed up his pitches really well today. When he was down he was really, really effective.
“I know he tried to go up by design a few times, but when he got the ball down he was really good.”
How different was it for Lester with the quick turnaround this time?
“I think every — even on normal rest, every start is a little different,” the 37-year-old, 16-year veteran said. “Just based on how you’re feeling and what’s kind of your workload and all of that stuff. But, yeah, I mean, I basically told [Davey], I said, ‘Just tell me when I’m pitching and I’ll be there.’ Just kind of how I’ve always looked at it. I haven’t done it a lot in my career, but times that things come up, like I said, I’m a pitcher, so you just tell me the day and I’ll do my best to be there on time and be ready to go.”
Lester did, as Martinez mentioned, want assurances that it would be treated like a normal start if he did take the mound.
“That was part of the conversation with Davey, is I said, ‘Hey, man, if we’re going to do this, I don’t want to be on a pitch count,’” Lester confirmed. “And obviously last start kind of helped be ready for this start. Four innings at  pitches, it wasn’t a huge workload day. I think if I’m coming in here at 100-something pitches it’s maybe a different scenario coming in. That was kind of my thing, is I didn’t want to be handcuffed to 70 pitches again, and kind of put us behind the eight ball where something happens and that’s maybe only three-plus innings or whatever, so that was just my big — I don’t want to say argument — with him about the decision. I just wanted to make sure coming in that it was going to be a normal start and he assured me of that and let me do my thing.”
His manager was watching closely throughout the start, however, and he pulled Lester when he thought he’d had enough even though he would have liked to have gotten him through the sixth.
“Jon knows himself better than I ever would,” Martinez said, “so I just let him go. I mean, I’m watching what he’s doing, I’m looking at his mechanics, and he looked good. So we let him out there and like I said, we got him through that [fifth] inning, I was hoping he’d finish that sixth inning, but that’s when I really thought that he was good.
“That was 80-something pitches, the other day he threw 74-75, so he was good.”
His catcher, Yan Gomes, said that Lester work in the previous outing actually carried over into this start as the veteran put together another solid outing.
“It was kind of a good momentum coming from last start,” Gomes explained. “I felt like last start he had probably some of his best stuff that I’ve seen. And we kind of communicated or we kind of just talked about it and he kind of just piggybacked from it. A team like the Braves, they’re going to come out hacking and you just got to be aware of that and try to get a game plan going towards that.”
Starter-turned-reliever Daniel Hudson, who gave up the game-tying hit in the Braves’ half of seventh (though the runs were on Rainey’s line), then came back out for a scoreless eighth, said he really was impressed with Lester’s performance in general, but especially on short rest.
“I never pitched on short rest as far as I can remember,” Hudson said.
“It was impressive. Jon is a veteran, he’s been around for a long time, I’m sure he’s done stuff like this before, where late in the season they need him to go on 3-4 days’ rest, or 2-3 days’ rest.
“We knew he was going to throw the ball well and he really did. And ... getting into the sixth inning after last night, us covering almost eight innings last night, and him getting into the sixth was huge for us, and hats off for him. We were all pumped for him down there.”
So, considering how well he did, will Martinez consider pitching Lester on short rest more often?
“I did joke around with him and tell him, ‘Hey, be ready to pitch Sunday,’” Martinez joked, though the Nationals do actually need a starter for the finale in Philadelphia.
“He looked at me and he goes, ‘What?’ and then he started laughing and he said, ‘I’m ready.’”