Jon Lester has always stressed the importance of pitching against the opposing lineup rather than the opposing pitcher. A glimpse of the star-studded cast Lester has gone up against this season, however, only magnifies just how solid the lefty has been.
Lester failed to pick up a win for the first time this season on Saturday, but he still matched the reigning AL Cy Young, David Price, pitch for pitch, thus allowing the Red Sox to eventually secure a 2-1, 10-inning victory. It’s the third time this season Lester has gone up against the other team’s ace, and it’s the third time this season he’s more than held his own. The success only serves as further proof that last season’s struggles are a distant memory.
“I think we fully expected Jon to get back to the levels that he’s pitched before,” Red Sox manager Jon Farrell said following Saturday’s game. “We stated in the offseason. He’s healthy. He’s got good stuff. There’s no reason he shouldn’t get back to his performance level, and he’s doing that.”
Prior to Saturday’s game, Lester outpitched perennial All-Star CC Sabathia and reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey while improving to 2-0. Though Lester didn’t factor into the decision on Saturday, he still pitched seven solid innings. Lester allowed just one run on five hits while striking out five, lowering his season ERA to 1.42.
“It’s been good. It’s been good,” Lester said after the game. “[I’ve] just been able to make some adjustments from the first start and been getting a little deeper in the game and not throwing so many pitches. You keep doing that and things take care of themselves.”
Such a mindset has worked for Lester more often than not throughout his career. Still, it doesn’t take away from the fact that there is inherently more pressure on Lester when he does go up against the opponent’s best starter. Then again, it’s all in the life of an ace, which Lester looks to be this season.
“You know going into the game who you’re pitching against,” Lester admitted. “The biggest thing is you can’t worry about that. You can’t worry about we’ve got Price or Sabathia or whoever it may be. You start worrying about the pitcher, or you’re worrying about the wrong things. Obviously in the back of your mind, you know, ‘Hey I’ve got to keep these guys close.’ Give [your offense] a chance to maybe put a big inning together against him.”
The Red Sox’ big inning never came on Saturday, but it didn’t matter. Lester was so effective that two runs were all the Sox needed in the game to squeak by in extra innings. With plenty of talent from top to bottom in the Boston order, Lester should receive his fair share of wins this season.
Lester’s next opponent is scheduled to be Cleveland’s Zach McAllister. McAllister doesn’t exactly come with the name recognition of a Sabathia, a Dickey or a Price, but it doesn’t mean Lester is going to change anything between now and that start.
“We haven’t seen any difference in his demeanor, his work routine in between starts, regardless of who he’s going up against,” Farrell said. “He’s preparing for the lineup that he’s facing on a given day. It’s no secret, though, that you’re going to go up against a pitcher that’s, maybe, the opportunities aren’t there to readily to score runs against him. He’s doing an outstanding job of controlling the things that he can and just going out an executing pitch to pitch. I know that can be very cliché, but he’s very much under control.”
You’re right, John. That is cliché. It doesn’t mean it isn’t an effective approach, though.