MINNEAPOLIS – After the Red Sox disastrous – and his own dismal – 2012 season, Jon Lester came into this season with a chip on his shoulder.
He wanted to get off to a good start. But it wasn’t just the start of the season he was concerned with.
“You’re not determined to just get off to a great start,” he said. “It’s more determined to prepare for a real good season. My biggest thing was just preparing for the long haul of the entire season, correct the things that we needed to correct last year.”
And there were several. Lester went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 33 starts. He knew he – and his team – had something to prove.
“I think the biggest thing for me to prove is that [2012 was] a fluke, that I’m still an effective pitcher in this league,” he said. “And then the team, yeah, we need to get back to being the Boston Red Sox and kind of doing the same thing, prove that last year was a fluke for us and a blip on the radar and come in and play better baseball and do the little things right and I think we’ve done that, so far.”
Lester has accomplished that, so far. In nine starts this season, he has righted his performance, going 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA. He is among the league leaders in wins, ERA, innings pitched (59 2/3), WHIP (1.01) and opponents’ batting average (.204), on-base percentage (.264) and slugging percentage (.312).
He makes his 10th start of the season Monday night in Chicago against the White Sox. In six career starts at U.S. Cellular Field, he is 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA. In nine starts against the White Sox, he has posted his highest ERA against any American League team, at 5.20. He last faced them on July 17, 2012, at Fenway Park, taking the loss after giving up six runs on seven hits and three walks in four innings. He last pitched at U.S. Cellular on April 28, 2012, going seven scoreless innings to earn his first win of the season.
In three starts this month, Lester has gone 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA, giving up five runs over 22 innings.
“You know what, it’s been nice just how I’ve started this season,” Lester said. “I haven’t felt like I’ve put a full game together, as far as from pitch one tot when I’m done. For the most part, I’ve pitched this year without a breaking ball, without a curveball.
“I think the biggest pitch for me this year is my changeup, just with how effective it’s been, how consistent it’s been. I think that’s been the main thing with it. And without having that breaking ball it’s been able to slow guys down enough to get in on them with my fastball or cutter.”
According to brooksbaseball.net, Lester has had 49.26 percent of his curveballs called for balls, more than any other pitch.
“I just haven’t had the feel for it,” he said. “It’s a feel pitch, just like your changeup. One day you can wake up and you grip it the same every time and it just doesn’t feel right. And for whatever reason that’s the way it is. And that’s the way it is with my curveball right now. Or it was. I feel better with it, my bullpen [Friday] was good with it. It’s just a continued work in progress and something you go thru thru a season.”
Kind of a metaphor for his season as a whole. While there are certain things Lester would like to accomplish this season – 20 wins, an All-Star selection would be nice – he knows there’s only one thing that will prove all the naysayers wrong.
“World series. World series,” he said. “You can take last year, obviously as much of a struggle as it was, [if] we win a World Series, it doesn’t matter. So the rest of that stuff will take care of itself. Ultimate goal every year when we walk in that clubhouse in spring training is win a World Series. It’s not for me to go 20 and whatever, or [Clay Buchholz] buck to go 20-whatever, or anybody else. You want to have a good, solid season, you want to help contribute, and help this team get to a World Series and hopefully win it.”
And the other things?
“It takes care of itself,” he said. “You put the work in. Baseball's such a funny sport. You can’t really set personal goals. I think really the only personal goal I set every year is to make every start and [pitch] 200 innings. And that’s really all you can somewhat control, just trying to be healthy and do the things you have to from start to start and hopefully if you make 33, 34 starts, the 200 innings there and the wins will follow. Hopefully we can do that.”