Jon Lester didn’t make it through the fourth last night. He held the Tampa Bay Rays to one run on four hits, but he also walked four, and the third and fourth free passes, in the home-half of the fourth, were followed by a single, on his 91st pitch.
With the bases loaded and two out, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez went to the bullpen for right-hander Wander Suero, who got the final out to keep it a 1-1 game, but Suero issued back-to-back walks in the first two at bats of the Rays’ fifth, and both runners he put on came around to score as the home team took a 3-1 lead that held up.
Lester, pitching on three days’ rest last time out, gave the Nationals 5 2⁄3 on 87 pitches, with just five hits, two walks, and one earned run allowed.
Lester actually got normal rest this time around, but he fell behind real early, when Manuel Margot hit the lefty’s fifth pitch of the game, a 3-1 cutter, out to left for a leadoff home run, and a 1-0 Rays’ lead in the first.
Lester kept it there through three, which he completed on 67 pitches, but the one and two-out walks and base-loading single in the fourth pushed him up to 91 pitches and forced his manager’s hand.
Jon Lester’s Line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 Ks, 1 HR, 91 P, 52 S, 4/3 GO/FO.
“Just a lot of balls,” Lester said after the Nationals’ third straight loss. “Just for whatever reason couldn’t find the strike zone with really anything. Fell behind counts, and once you kind of fall behind, you have to figure out a way to get back in the counts and just wasn’t able to do that. So, that was kind of the high pitch count, a lot of long at bats, a lot of 3-2 counts, a lot of foul balls, and the more pitches they see the better off they are, so kind of you start pigeonholing yourself and getting predictable, it makes things a lot harder.”
“His pitch count shot up on him,” Martinez said in his own post game Zoom call.
“Uncharacteristic,” he added. “He was behind a lot of hitters, but I thought he battled really well. He gave us everything he had tonight. Just ... his pitch count got up high, and we just had to get him out at that moment.”
“Just nibbling a little bit,” Lester said of falling behind all night, “like I said, you fall behind and you think you make a quality pitch, and you either don’t get a call or don’t get a swing or whatever, now you’re 1-0, now it’s — you’re trying to stay away from damage and when you have a lot of traffic, you’re trying to stay away from that big number.
“So, just need to do a better job of attacking with whatever I’m throwing. Just being a little bit too fine will put you in these counts and put up a lot of pitches, high pitch counts, I feel like I’ve done that even when I’ve thrown well, I’ve kind of put myself in these spots where you have long at bats and that doesn’t allow me to go deeper in games.”
“He threw some balls that were pretty close,” Martinez said. “But they were walks, base on balls, and like I said, when you walk guys — but he got out of some innings and kept us in the ballgame, I just — the pitch count, I think he had  pitches in less than four innings, that’s a lot.”
It also left a lot of outs for the bullpen to cover, which was what seemed to frustrate Lester the most.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “That’s our responsibility as a staff. And that’s kind of our job title. You got throw innings, you got to get outs, you got to figure out ways to get through lineups, you know, I know the way the game is now, but maybe three, even possibly four times. I know I haven’t done that even when I feel like I’ve thrown the ball well, I feel like for whatever reason that fourth, fifth, into the sixth inning for me, it’s been a battle. So, me personally I need to do a better job of maybe early in games maybe establishing something, whatever that is. Whether it’s a heater or changeup, or whatever that pitch may be, just doing a little bit better job of attacking the zone. If we’re giving up hits in the first two or three pitches, you can always kind of live and move on with those, you’re walking guys on 5-6-7 pitches, that’s going to continually drive up that pitch count and that’s going to limit innings.”