Lester showing that Sox can count on him again

Lester showing that Sox can count on him again
August 20, 2013, 2:45 am
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SAN FRANCISCO -- It may not be reflected in his won-loss record, but somewhat without much attention, Jon Lester is again pitching the way he did at the start of the season.
Lester pitched into the ninth inning Monday night and while he failed to finish out his fourth career complete shutout, there was no denying what his start meant for the Red Sox as they opened a six-game interleague road trip at AT&T Park.
Lester allowed just six hits -- two in the ninth inning, when he seemed to tire some -- and the Sox posted a 7-0 shutout of the San Francisco Giants.
It was Lester's first win in his last four starts, but again, that's misleading. Since the All-Star break, Lester is 3-2 in seven starts with a 2.78 ERA.
"Coming out of the All-Star break," said John Farrell, "he's been back to close to the form he started the season with. And we're going to need that from him."
Indeed, through the middle of May, Lester had made seven starts with a nearly identical 2.72 ERA, but thanks to better run support and circumstance, he stood at 6-0.
If one subtracts Lester's one poor second-half start (against the Diamondbacks, when he allowed six runs on 11 hits in just 4 1/3 innings), Lester's ERA in the second half sits at 1.74.
"Every time he takes the mound," said Farrell, "we look to him -- or (John) Lackey or (Jake) Peavy or whoever it might be -- to lead the way on that given night and for the most part in the second half, he's done that."
He allowed just one hit over the first five innings and faced just one batter over the minimum in that span.
"Any time when we scored some runs early," said Lester of his team's three-run second, "you can get comfortable and feel good with your mix. It just makes things easier. You don't have to work hard. You're not grinding through innings. We had some balls that got squared up, but were hit right at guys. We had a couple of double plays and that kept the pitch count down for me."
Brandon Workman got up in the eighth, but Lester got a double play to end the inning, sending him back for the ninth at 108 pitches.
After a hard-hit out, he yielded back-to-back singles. Lester's night was done.
Given that this was the start of a big road trip, the team was coming off a disappointing series at home in which it lost two of three to New York and the travel challenges faced by his teammates -- Lester himself flew to San Francisco ahead of the team on Sunday -- the lefty was more determined than ever to finish the game.
"I'm competitive and wanted to finish the game," Lester said. "I felt like I needed to do that. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that but Work [Workman] came in and picked me up. He got out of it without any runs, but the biggest thing is we won the game."
And Lester is back in the same groove he was in for April and the first half of May. With six weeks left in the season, his timing couldn't be better.
"(The) Arizona (start) was just bad everything -- not a good game," said Lester. "But I feel like after the break, I've thrown the ball really well. I just keep trying to build off each positive start and build off today. Any time you go through some struggles (as Lester did in June and early July), having a break helps, whether it's one day or the All-Star break.
"I think that really helped get me back to neutral, as far as just pounding my head against the wall with pitch selection or mechanics or whatever it might have been at that time. I felt like that was a good mental break for me and I felt fresh when I came back."
His command has been markedly better, too. He walked two in 8 1/3 innings last night and has issued just 11 in his last seven starts.