Lester finds success in mixing up his pitches

Lester finds success in mixing up his pitches
July 24, 2013, 12:00 am
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BOSTON – It may still be July, but coming out of the All-Star break in a game against a division rival – one that is breathing down the collective neck of your team – that won the series opener the night before, it all adds up to qualify as a big game.  Maybe not a Big Game, but certainly an important one.
"I think anytime you play somebody in your division it's more than just a regular-season game,” said Jon Lester. “Whether it be the first part of the year or last part of the year, it’s always big to beat somebody in your division, whether they're half a game back or 20. It doesn't matter. If you continually beat the people in your division, you're going to have a good season."
Lester responded as the Red Sox needed him to Tuesday night at Fenway Park against the Rays, who entered the game a half game behind the Sox in the American League East. Lester went 6 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on seven hits with no walks, matching a season-high with eight strikeouts. Lester earned the win, improving to 9-6 with a 4.50 ERA as the Sox beat Tampa Bay, 6-2.
“You never want to diminish any start,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell, “but, again, where we are in the standings, where they are, knowing we're only still in July, but this was a big game for us tonight and for him to come out and respond and take control of the game as he did, very encouraging.”
Lester, who was given two extra days off coming out of the break, entered the game with just two wins in his last 11 starts, including losses in his last two. He threw 96 pitches, 64 for strikes. He gave up lead-off home runs to Wil Myers on the first pitch of the second inning and to Evan Longoria in the sixth. He left with the tying run on second, after Jose Molina doubled with one out in the seventh.

“We were able to throw some breaking balls and some changeups behind and ahead in the count and I think that’s a big key especially with their lineup, obviously a very good fastball-hitting team,” he said. “And be able to slow them down just enough to get them off that fastball. Able to pitch out of some trouble, stay away from some damage.”
"He was strong,” Farrell said. “It seems like the added rest did him some good. A lot of strikes, power to his fastball for the full six-plus innings of work tonight.”
It was the best Lester has felt on the mound in a while.
“I would say just being able to command all four pitches,” Lester said. “There’ve been times this year where I’ve felt better as far as power with a certain pitch. But as far as all four pitches being consistent for the most part tonight, yeah.”
Interestingly, though, the breakdown of those pitches and how he employed them was different in this outing. According to fangraphs.com, entering the game Lester had thrown his cutter 24.7 percent of the time this season. But in this game, according to brooksbaseball.net, just five of his 96 pitches, or 5.2 percent, were cutters. Had he become too reliant on his bread-and-butter pitch?
“I think if you talk to anybody who's going to face me, I think that’s always in the back of their minds as far as the pitch that I’m going to try to get you out with,” Lester said. “If you’re able to throw it a little early, you can throw some pitches that you normally don’t throw later in the count . .. Always have to constantly make adjustments. We’re doing that right now.”
Had he become too predictable?
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “Andy Pettitte’s done it for 19 years. I’m not going to shy away from my strength . . . But got to be able to throw all four, five pitches and mix them up. You can't just obviously go fastball-cutter. So we just have to constantly make those adjustments to different teams.
"I feel like I’ve made improvements,” he said. “I've made strides in the right direction, whether it be adjustments or whether it be executing pitches.  So I just have to keep pounding those things away."
Perhaps being more selective with the cutter will make it a more effective pitch again.
“Yeah, I think the more he uses it early in the count gets the hitter off balance,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “In the past we used mainly late in the count instead of early in the count and it gets them off of that. The league’s starting to change and adjust to him. So in return he’s got to adjust to them.”