Lester takes step back in loss to Mariners

Lester takes step back in loss to Mariners
July 9, 2013, 2:15 am
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SEATTLE -- After Jon Lester went seven innings in his last start and allowed just one run, it appeared as though he had perhaps turned a corner on his season.
But at Safeco Field Monday night, it looked more as though Lester had executed a u-turn, right back into a pitching rut.
Lester was knocked around for nine hits and five runs in five-plus innings of work in an 11-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners. After pitching out of some difficulty in the second (leadoff double) and again in the third (first-and-second, one out), he came unglued in the fourth, needing 40 pitches to complete the innings.
Worse, after his teammates had used a hit batsman, two singles and a groundout to scratch together two runs in the top of the fifth off Seattle ace Felix Hernandez and tie the game at 2-2, Lester needed exactly three pitches to hand the lead back to the Mariners.
Still more troubling were some things reminiscent of his terrible 2012 season: rattled by umpiring and insisting that he had actually pitched pretty well.
"I felt like I threw a lot of good pitches tonight," said Lester, who, good or bad, needed 112 pitches to get 15 outs. "Maybe a handful of balls found the middle of the plate, they did a better job of fouling balls off to get to those pitches. It goes back to I felt like I threw the ball better than what the line score says."
For the record, Lester allowed five runs on nine hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
On the mound, Lester could be seen reacting to the ball-and-strike calls of home plate umpire Ed Hickox -- staring in after pitches weren't called strikes and gesturing toward Hickox when Lester was pulled from the game two batters into the sixth inning.
"The strike zone was fine," insisted Lester afterward.
What wasn't fine was Lester's battle with Raul Ibanez, leading off the bottom of the fifth. Lester got ahead 0-and-2, but when he threw a cut fastball, the ageless Ibanez drove it out to right for his 22nd homer of the season.
"Obviously, it's frustrating," said Lester of the at-bat. "But you can't second-guess a pitch that you know in your head you wanted to go to. I felt like I had that pitch set up and I obviously didn't. Sometimes when you make mistakes, you get a little bit more frustrated. But I felt like I executed that pitch fairly well, enough to not have that result.
"It's frustrating because it (came after he was ahead) 0-and-2. But at the same time, that's the pitch I wanted to go to. Sometimes they have a better game plan than you."
Lester had a similar feeling about a 1-and-2 pitch to Justin Smoak in the fourth. The Seattle first baseman hammered a pitch inside the left field line for a run-scoring double.
"I don't think it was a terrible pitch - it's a ground ball," reasoned Lester. "When you're going well, those balls find gloves. Right now, they're finding grass on me. Just gotta keep grinding away and keep trying to execute pitches."
Much of the damage against Lester came, improbably, from the bottom third of the Seattle lineup. Smoak, rookie catcher Mike Zunino and light-hitting outfielder Michael Saunders combined to go 4-for-6 with two walks and two RBI off Lester.
In several at-bats, it seemed as though the Mariners were intent on either fighting off cutters when Lester was ahead, or, worse for the pitch, hitting them hard somewhere.
Still, he maintained that things weren't as bad as they seemed.
"I normally don't watch video when I get out of the game," said Lester. "But I had to go in there and take a look at it. And like I said, I felt like I threw the ball a lot better than what the line score said."