Friday, April 01, 2011

An Unlikely Outing for Jon Lester

It wasn't a great day for some major league aces during Round Two of Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Roy Halladay wasn't his usual sharp self. Ubaldo Jiminez wasn't sharp either. David Price wasn't sharp early and was out-pitched by Jeremy Guthrie as the Orioles took the opener. But the most unlikely pitching performance was from Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox. Staked to two early leads, Lester couldn't hold back the Texas Rangers as the reigning American League champs fought back and finally chased Lester from the game. Lester didn't get the loss as Daniel Bard was the unfortunate victim in a four-run uprising by the Rangers to put the game away. But Lester's performance was puzzling.

On a pitching staff with big names, Jon Lester has risen to the top of the Boston rotation. His Opening Day nod was confirmation of his ascendancy. Since coming back from cancer, Lester has won fifty games the last three years against only twenty-three losses. The last two years, Lester has struck out more than nine batters per nine innings. He gave up only fourteen homers all last season. And thus, his performance today was odd. He did not strike out anyone on Opening Day in five and a third innings. And he gave up three home runs. How odd is that?

It's so odd that Jon Lester has had only one other outing in his entire career where he pitched as many as five innings without striking anyone out. The last time it happened was on April 9, 2008. That was nearly three years ago when Lester was still building his strength back up in the beginning of a season where he wasn't the strikeout pitcher he is now. In fact, there have only been two times in his career where he pitched five innings or more while only striking out one batter. That gives you an idea of how rare his outing today was.

But it was odder than that. Perhaps the strikeouts were a symptom of something not being quite right. If that is the case, another one was the three homers he gave up in the game. He's given up two homers in a game before. In fact, he's done that thirteen times (twice last year). But never three. So was it simply an off day for Lester? Or do we credit the Rangers' potent offense? After all, the Rangers only struck out once the whole game off of all of the Boston pitchers. But Lester has faced the Rangers seven times for a total of 49 innings and has struck out 48 Rangers. He only gave up three homers in all those other outings. He matched that entire total today.

The Fan watched a lot of this game and at first, it was wondered if Saltalamacchia was tipping Lester's pitches. In the first couple of innings, whenever Lester threw a fastball, Saltalamacchia was spread eagle with his butt on the ground while catching. For breaking pitches, the catcher stayed on the balls of his feet. The Fan thought he had a good theory going but the catcher stopped doing that after the second inning, so that can't be it. But something about Lester was off. The Rangers swung and missed at Lester's pitches only four times the entire game.

It couldn't have been the spring weather because it was hot in Texas. So, this Fan has no answers. But Lester's outing will have to be scrutinized by experts and his next couple of starts should be watched carefully.  Maybe it was just a fluke. Time will tell. Heck, Ubaldo only struck out one batter in his Opening Day outing too. We can perhaps chalk it up to a bad start. But this is a bit scary for the Red Sox as Jon Lester is the one pitcher they truly count on to carry the rotation.

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