When he was asked Monday night whether he would handle anything different during these final two do-or-die days, Terry Francona mentioned just one thing. Simply put, he won't stick with a struggling starter as long as he would if it was earlier in the season.
The way things have gone for the Red Sox rotation lately, that decision is usually made for him. Many starts have been abbreviated this month. That trend may hold true for the final two Boston starters, Erik Bedard and Jon Lester.
Bedard has thrown just 2 2/3 innings since Sept. 3, and is not far removed from knee and lat issues, so his workload cannot be substantial. There's just no way he can be a 110-pitch horse (somewhere, Nolan Ryan chuckles).
The troubling thing is that Francona may not get that far with Lester, too.
When Lester was asked this spring what he needed to improve upon, he barked back "walks" before the questioner got to the end of their inquiry. His walk rate soared last season from 2.8 per nine innings in 2009 to 3.6 in 2010, largely preventing him from taking that next step toward greatness, which seems attainable given his stuff.
That goal has not been accomplished. While the walk rate is down a tad to 3.4, it is still too high for Lester to avoid high pitch counts early in games. And that makes no mention of three-ball counts that often lead to something else.
Lester had a memorable 43-pitch first inning against the Yankees on Sept. 1. Amazingly, he duplicated that 10 days later in Tampa Bay. In the former, he could last only five innings. In the second, he only got through four. He threw 55 pitches in just 2 2/3 innings in New York on Saturday.
Lester's walk rate for June was 2.06 per nine innings. It was 2.08 in July. In August, it escalated to 4.45. And in September, when he has averaged just over five innings a start, it has settled at 4.20.
It's one thing to go through ups and downs. However, Lester's marks in his first three full seasons followed a similar pattern, rising from 1.60 in June to 2.61 in July to 2.72 in August to 3.38 in September. Based on those numbers, not much has changed since that day in Fort Myers when he laid out his 2011 goals in one simple word.
Because of his inability to cure what ails him, especially late in the season, Lester, a guy usually deemed dependable, is a bit of a question mark Wednesday.
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