Jon Lester Finally Shows Signs of Being Front-End Starter While Keeping Padres in Check

jon lesterBOSTON — It’s funny how baseball works. Jon Lester turned in his best performance in almost two months Wednesday, yet he doesn’t have a win to show for it.

Lester pitched seven innings of one-run ball against the Padres, but he didn’t factor in the decision, as the Red Sox won 2-1 on a walk-off home run by Jonny Gomes. Lester was going for his third straight win, but he pitched far better in Wednesday’s no-decision than he did in any of his previous nine starts.

Lester, who threw 102 pitches (71 strikes), got into some trouble in the first inning when the Padres scored their only run of the game. He got two quick outs, but he then gave up three straight hits, creating some concern as to what direction his start was headed.

One of Lester’s biggest issues this season has been finishing off innings. Opponents are hitting .303 (46-for-152) against the left-hander with two outs, compared to .229 (66-for-288) with less than two outs. He didn’t completely solve the issue Wednesday, as five of the six hits he surrendered came with two down, but he managed to settle in after the three-hit first inning.

“They challenged him good right out of the gate, and he settled down where he used his changeup I thought probably as effectively tonight as he has all year,” John Farrell said. “He was good in the bottom of the strike zone. … He just continued the performance that he set the last time out against Toronto, and it’s good to see him on a hot, muggy night get through seven solid innings and keep the game in check. That was a well-pitched game all around, and it’s good to come out on the right side of it.”

Lester needed to be as good as he was Wednesday because Edinson Volquez was sharp for San Diego. Volquez pitched six innings of one-run ball, and the score was deadlocked at one apiece going into the ninth inning before Gomes’ pinch-hit blast.

Lester’s quality start Wednesday was his first since June 6 versus the Rangers, and the one run was his fewest allowed since he pitched a one-hit, complete-game shutout against the Rays on May 10. The one walk surrendered by Lester was very encouraging, as command was something that plagued him during a rough stretch in which he lost four straight decisions over six starts from May 20-June 16.

Lester showed no ill effects of the jammed hip that he suffered in the eighth inning of his last start, and he featured a very good changeup en route to striking out five. He also kept the ball down in the zone, which enabled him to induce 10 ground balls, including a big ground-ball double play after the first two batters reached in the sixth inning.

“Like I said in the past, I think I’ve thrown the ball better at times than what my line score’s indicated,” Lester said. “There’s been some bad ones mixed in there. But after [my] last start [and] this start, maybe [I’ll] start stringing some good ones together and get on a little bit of a roll.”

Lester showed improvement in each of his last two starts, but Wednesday marked the first time in a long time that he actually looked like Jon Lester.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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