Lester pitched five innings and earned the win in the Red Sox’ 8-2 victory over the Yankees on Monday. He threw 96 pitches (63 strikes), and allowed two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out seven.
It was far from a dominant performance by Lester, whose outing was plagued by a difficult, 34-pitch fourth inning. But given last season’s struggles, particularly those early in the year, it’s encouraging to see the southpaw start off 2013 on a positive note.
“I felt good. I had good fastball command, good cutter today. Just really didn’t have anything else,” Lester told reporters after the game. “Took me until the fifth inning to get a feel for a curveball or a changeup, and just really had to battle with my fastball and cutter. With that being said, I’m really pleased with the outcome with those pitches. It was good.”
Lester’s cutter looked to be in midseason form from the onset. He struck out Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano in the first inning on a pair of cutters down and out of the zone. He would then use the pitch to freeze Jayson Nix in the second inning and Eduardo Nunez in the third inning.
The fourth inning spelled trouble for Lester, though, as he struggled a bit with his command, and thus allowed the Yankees to briefly jump back into the game. The lefty gave up three hits and walked one while surrendering his only two runs of the game in that inning.
“With the exception of that fourth inning, where he threw 34 pitches, I thought he came out and command the strike zone down,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters. “But the lengthy inning, I thought, started to catch up to him a little bit, and after 96-plus pitches after five, I felt like it was time to turn the game over to the bullpen. I thought Jon did bend, but didn’t break in that two-run inning. I think more than anything it was a good starting point for him.”
Lester’s fourth inning can be looked at in a couple of ways.
On one hand, while he temporarily lost control, he was able to buckle down and escape the inning without completely imploding. In fact, he was one strike away from getting out of the jam unscathed, but Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli turned on Lester’s 1-2 offering and sent it into left field to plate the two runs.
On the other hand, Lester’s fourth inning continues an unusual trend. In the fourth inning of games in 2012, Lester had a 6.75 ERA (24 earned runs in 32 innings). Perhaps that has something to do with hitters facing Lester for the second time, or perhaps it’s a coincidence, but it’s an unusual phenomenon either way.
In any event, the biggest takeaway from Lester’s first start of the season should be that he did enough to give the Red Sox a chance to win. He’ll need to make some adjustments and go deeper into games going forward, but it’s a good first step for a guy who went off the tracks in a big way last season.