Lester not getting innings, results Sox need

Lester not getting innings, results Sox need
June 16, 2013, 10:15 pm
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BALTIMORE -- For the first six weeks of the season, you didn't have to look hard to find the positives with Jon Lester.
     
Right from Opening Day, when he out-dueled CC Sabathia and ripped off six decisions in a row in the win column, Lester's strengths were obvious: he was driving the ball down in the strike zone, limiting walks and showing signs that he had returned to the form he showed between 2008 through August of 2011, when he was one of the best lefty starters in the game.
     
But Sunday, after Lester was tagged for five runs on eight hits and was done after five innings, you had to work a little harder for the silver linings.
     
* Yes, there was the improved control. After walking a career-high seven in his last outing and 14 total in his last three starts, Lester didn't walk a single batter.
     
* Yes, his stuff was generally sharper. He struck out eight and had 21 swings and misses, an extraordinary high number for any starter, but especially for one who lasted just five innings.
     
But the positives pretty much stopped there.
     
There was no getting around that Lester has now gone six straight starts without a win. Or that he allowed five extra-base hits, including a two-run homer to right by Chris Davis which keyed a three-run third inning.
     
Understandably, his manager chose to emphasize the good.
     
"I thought today was much improved over the last couple of outings," said John Farrell. "With the exception with the 3-and-1 cutter that Davis hit out of the ballpark, they put the bat on some balls. They found some holes, there were some balls that fell in. But given the number of strikeouts, no walks issued . . . I thought much-improved today.
     
"Now, the bottom line isn't going to suggest that -- the line score that's put up there. But I think (it was) a step in right direction, for sure."
     
"It was a lot better than the last one was," agreed Lester, "as far as the way the ball came out of my hand, the way I felt my stuff was. Obviously, the results weren't there. But as far as command of all four pitches, it was there."
     
When it was suggested to Lester that his afternoon was one of extremes -- either strikeouts or swing-and-misses, or hard contact by the Orioles, Lester disagreed.
     
"I wouldn't say they hit them hard," he said. "I had four broken-bat hits, so that's not really hitting the ball hard. I felt like my stuff was there and with all the swing-and-misses, with the exception of the one homer, when I missed the side of the plate I was trying to go to.
     
"But in terms of command of all four pitches, it was probably the best I've had all year. The stuff was there. It wasn't for a lack of stuff. I got back to being me."
     
But while the Sox are without ace Clay Buchholz, who hasn't pitched since June 8 and won't return to the mound until later this week at the earliest, the Sox need Lester to pitch the way he did in the first six weeks of the season.
     
Lately, he hasn't. And worse, he hasn't been able to go very deep into his starts. On Sunday, his 102 pitches only got him 15 outs, forcing Farrell to go to his bullpen for three innings.
     
"Obviously, this team counts on me to throw innings," said Lester, "and I haven't done that. That's nobody's fault but (mine). I've got to do a better job going deeper into games. I haven't done that the last couple. It flat comes down to doing a better job, no matter what the situation is, what the game is, who we're playing -- I've got to get deeper.
     
"That's the bottom line. I've got to pitch innings. That's what these guys rely upon me to do."
     
For now, Lester is searching for the right direction and saw Sunday -- again, line score aside -- as a step forward.
     
"I just have to keep plugging away, grinding away at it," said Lester.
     
The determination is there. But lately, the results haven't been.