Improvements finally pay off for Lester

Improvements finally pay off for Lester
June 17, 2012, 4:06 am
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CHICAGO -- Thanks to some poor run support and, at times, his own inability to preserve leads, it had been almost a month since Jon Lester picked up a win.

For the starter considered to the be the No. 1 pitcher in the Red Sox rotation, three wins in his first 13 outings wasn't good enough.

Saturday night, Lester took a step to address that, shutting out the Chicago Cubs for six innings before stumbling some in the seventh, allowing a three-run homer to Luis Valbuena.

That made things tighter for the Sox, turning a 4-0 cushion into a one-run nailbiter, but thanks to some nice work turned in by the bullpen, the Sox held off the Cubs, 4-3, giving Lester his first victory since May 18.

"I threw 102 pitches and one was a mistake,'' said Lester, a reference to Valbuena's three-run shot. "You look at the hits they had a couple of flares to right...I think they had three infield hits. I've got to take that positive from the bad contact.

"One squared-up ball give them three runs. I have to keep executing.''

Lester had a marathon 10-pitch at-bat against Welington Castillo, whom he walked immediately before giving up the three-run homer. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia thought the Sox had Castillo struck out on a 1-and-2 changeup, and judging from the pitcher's body language, so did Lester himself.

Lester credits an improved cutter in his last few outings, which has given him another out pitch, one hitters sometimes chase out of the zone. He had eight strikeouts Saturday, and his last four outings, he's fanned 29 -- and walked just four -- over 26 13 innings.

"I haven't been walking guys,'' said Lester. "I've been giving up more hits, but I think that's the nature of the beast when you're around the zone more. But I'll take the hits that I gave up tonight -- obviously, with the exception of one.''