What’s wrong with Jon Lester?
Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester has been a bit off his game in his past few starts. This period of mound struggles manifested itself Tuesday night, when Lester gave up seven runs on eight hits and seven walks – a career high — to the Tampa Bay Rays in just 4 2/3 innings of work. The Red Sox needed Lester to come up big Tuesday night, as they’d exhausted their bullpen in a 14-inning win the night before. But Lester couldn’t help them much in his early exit Tuesday night.
The collapse wasn’t sudden by any means. In his last five starts, Lester has an ERA of 6.90. Look at his last three starts and that number rises to a 7.41 ERA. This is an astronomical downfall compared to where he was at the beginning of the season — opening with a record of 6-0 and an ERA of 2.72.
Lester has never had any sort of “June slump” of any sort; in fact, it’s usually his best month of the year. Historically, he has a 17-6 record with a 3.08 ERA in June, lower than his career ERA of 3.79.
So what’s wrong with Jon Lester?
Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz has had to push back two starts because of minor injuries to his neck muscles, therefore shifting some of Lester’s starts, and Lester has not been himself since those starts got shifted. Perhaps it’s a bit of a rhythm issue.
After Tuesday night’s loss, Lester discussed his recent downfall — using words like “unacceptable,” “terrible,” and “horse (expletive)” to describe last night’s outing —but other than the strong language, Lester doesn’t seem to be particularly worried.
“No, I feel great,” he said. “I honestly do. Probably the best I’ve felt all season.”
Lester, along with manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves, point to Lester’s recent inability to repeat delivery and pitch location as the cause for his issues. Lester has discussed how he creates a downhill plane for his pitches and “standing tall” when things are going well, but that isn’t happening as of late.
“It just comes down to commanding the baseball,” Lester said. “Command the baseball is simple, and I didn’t do that.”
Right now, the Red Sox are 40-26 and just have a grasp on first place in the AL East, sitting two games ahead of the New York Yankees. They’re fine for now — they have an 83.6 percent chance of making the playoffs and have the second-best offense in the American League after the super-slugging Detroit Tigers. A few rough starts aren’t going to have that much of an impact in the long run.
But if the former All-Star is going to continue throwing like just the opposite, that’s when it becomes a concern. If these struggles stretch into his next start or two, particularly if Buchholz continues to have neck issues, that’s when it’s time to worry. The Red Sox can afford for Lester to have five or six games where he isn’t himself. They can’t afford much more than that.