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Washington Nationals’ Jon Lester struggles again in win over San Diego Padres; still searching for fix...

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Jon Lester keeps falling behind hitters, and keeps getting in trouble that’s led to short starts...

Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Jon Lester earned his first win with Washington in a six-inning, 100-pitch outing against the New York Mets back on June 19th, in which he gave up seven hits and two earned runs, but he struggled the next two times out. Lester gave up five hits, three walks, and seven earned runs in 2 13 IP in a start against the Miami Marlins in on the road, then threw 96 pitches over five innings, in which he gave up a total of seven hits, two walks, and five earned runs, in a win over the Tampa Bay Rays in D.C.

Lester, 37, and 12 starts into his 16th MLB season, talked after the outing against the Rays about his growing frustration with his inability to consistently go deep in his outings.

“I can’t use the building thing as an excuse anymore,” Lester said.

“I feel like I’m in a good place. It’s frustrating that I keep putting myself in bad counts, falling behind guys and grinding when there really shouldn’t be grinding. I feel like I should be able to attack a little bit more. And I’m not doing it, for whatever reason, if I had that answer I’d be able to tell you.”

The issue in his mind, he explained, is falling behind in counts, and allowing hitters to put together long at bats that run up his pitch count and shorten his outings.

Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

“Just falling behind guys, you’re 1-0, 2-0, you’re fighting back and you got to get back onto the plate and when you do that you start giving up hits, “ Lester said.

“Regardless of what the hits are, you’re giving up hits, and I would much rather do that in the first two pitches than throw that third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and then it seems like 7-8-9 pitches later, then we’re walking a guy, and I’ve wasted however many pitches. If I give up a hit on the first pitch, then move on, that’s fine, they’re beating me with that, that’s fine, I can tip my hat all day to that, but when I’m continually grinding into at bats and you end up kind of finding yourself in a spot where you don’t know where to go, that’s where it gets really frustrating for me. The scouting report is not going to help you when they’ve seen 6-7-8-9 pitches. That’s null and void then, now it’s just about blind luck and hopefully they hit it at somebody. And I feel like I’ve put myself in those positions too often this year.”

“He wants early outs,” manager Davey Martinez said before start No. 13 for Lester last night in the series opener in San Diego. “He [doesn’t] necessarily want swings and misses, he wants guys to put the ball in play, weak contact, and by doing that he needs to throw the ball — not miss so much, and throw the ball, make good pitches early in the count to get that.

“He’s a guy that can do that, he’s done it before, so we talked a lot about just him attacking the strike zone early, and having them put it in play.”

Going up against the Padres, the southpaw, who started the night with a 5.34 ERA, a 5.44 FIP, 22 walks (3.45 BB/9), 39 Ks (6.12 BB/9), and a .291/.350/.500 line against over 57 13 IP, got off to a tough starts.

Lester took the mound in Petco Park with a 1-0 lead, but he struggled in a long 29-pitch, 15-strike bottom of the first, working his way out of a bases-loaded jam, after giving up a two-out single and back-to-back walks.

A quick, 12-pitch second left Lester at 41 pitches after two, with a 5-0 lead, but he then gave up three (unearned) runs in the third, when a two-out error started a rally for the Padres, in what ended up a 27-pitch frame, which pushed him up to 68 total after three, and his 81st pitch, a 2-2 cutter to Fernando Tatis, Jr. in the fourth, was crushed and hit out to left field for a 399 ft home run which made it a 5-4 game in the Nationals’ favor, and a double to left by Jake Cronenworth in the next at bat ended Lester’s outing, before a two-out RBI double off Kyle McGowin added an earned run to his line and tied things up at 5-5.

Jon Lester’s Line: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 Ks, 1 HR, 83 P, 48 S, 5/2 GO/FO.

“He’s got to get ahead and pound the strike zone,” his manager said in a post game Zoom call early this morning. “When he starts nitpicking he gets in trouble. So he’s just got to — that one inning started with an error, and then a hit batter, walk, and things just blew up. We got to stay away from those big innings like that, and just limit the damage.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

“I mean, that’s really it,” Lester said of the trouble he’s gotten in falling behind in counts, “... just keep putting myself in bad situations, bad counts. I don’t have the stuff like I used to to pitch around those situations, so you have to kind of pick and choose your spots to try to fight back into some counts, and I felt like I fell behind some of their big guys and then didn’t want to give in, and had some bases open, which then puts you in a bigger situations, and when you do execute a pitch you’ve thrown enough pitches where it doesn’t really matter, so just continue to beat myself and hopefully I can make the adjustment and figure this stuff out.”

How does he avoid falling behind consistently and putting himself in the same situations going forward?

“Hell, if I knew, I wouldn’t do it,” Lester said.

“I don’t know, maybe being too fine, a little too fine,” he suggested. “I feel like I had a good feel for my changeup early on in the year, and I just feel like I haven’t been maybe trusting it a little bit, maybe same thing with the sinker.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t constantly put myself in 2-0 situations to give these guys a chance.”