The Red Sox can go ahead and check out the starting pitching market before Wednesday’s trade deadline. But in the end, the team’s biggest boost may come from within.
Jon Lester pitched seven shutout innings while guiding the Red Sox to a 5-0 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards on Sunday. It’s the third encouraging outing in a row for the left-hander, who appears to be morphing back into his early-season form. If Lester continues the turnaround, it’ll be a bigger development than any trade deadline move the Red Sox could make.
“Any time of the year, Jon Lester pitching to his capabilities is going to be one of the better pitchers in the league and he’s shown it the last couple times out,” manager John Farrell said. “And again, I think he’s getting a better understanding of the overall pitch mix, how to be most effective, his changeup continues to be a very good weapon for him, and he was efficient once again today.”
Lester allowed four hits, walked two and struck out eight while throwing 99 pitches in Sunday’s winning effort. He found himself in a couple of jams, but he never wavered. Instead, Lester buckled down in the face of adversity, which is encouraging considering his biggest vice during his eight-start swoon was closing out innings.
“Once again, he stayed out of the middle of the plate, worked around some trouble in the sixth inning, particularly with the key strikeout and a very good double play that we turned to prevent any damage from taking place,” Farrell said. “But once again, he picked up where he left off against Tampa [in his last start] and a solid effort on his part.”
Lester entered Sunday’s contest on the heels of two good starts in a row. He surrendered just two runs while pitching into the seventh inning and earning a win against the Rays on Tuesday, and he lasted into the seventh inning despite suffering a loss in his start against the Athletics on June 13. Lester was in control for the most part again Sunday, showing an ability to work both sides of the plate with his fastball and changeup.
The Orioles’ biggest threat against Lester came in the sixth inning. Chris Davis reached on a throwing error by Dustin Pedroia, and Adam Jones made it first and second with no outs by dropping a bloop single down the right field line. Lester made key pitches when he needed to, though, and he escaped the inning unharmed by striking out Matt Wieters and then inducing a ground ball to third base that resulted in a nifty double play.
“Any time you get runners on, especially against this team — really [hitters] one through nine can put it out of the ballpark at any time — it’s a little bit of a grind,” Lester said. “Just getting back to what I said earlier, just thinking [about keeping pitches] down. They made me work for some at-bats there to get some outs and the big double play in the sixth was huge. … The guys did a good job of turning that double play. It was a tough double play.”
In June, when Lester was mired in his skid, the sixth inning might have evolved into something larger. But this time around, Lester worked through the jam, tossed a six-pitch seventh inning and eventually exited the game after a job well done.
Lester’s reemergence couldn’t come at a better time for the Red Sox, as Clay Buchholz is still sidelined and the Rays, who are the hottest team in baseball, sit just a half game back in the AL East. If the lefty continues to pitch the way he has of late, it’ll help silence concerns surrounding the Red Sox’ rotation.
The Red Sox might be on the verge of adding an ace for the stretch run. And they didn’t even have to go outside the organization to find him.