Valentine: Lester had 'best stuff of the year'

Valentine: Lester had 'best stuff of the year'
May 31, 2012, 4:23 am
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BOSTON It appeared Jon Lester would be in for a rough outing. He needed 27 pitches (17 strikes) facing six batters in the first inning.But, although the Tigers got three hits, they got just one run off the Red Sox left-hander in the inning, leaving two runners on base.Detroit added two more in the third when Quentin Berry led off with a triple and scored on Danny Worths sacrifice fly. Miguel Cabrera, the next batter, doubled and went to third on a wild pitch, scoring on Prince Fielders groundout to third when Will Middlebrooks failed to check him back to the base.After that, though, Lester settled down, retiring 10 of the next 12 batters he faced, allowing just a lead-off single to Brennan Boesch in the fourth and a two-out double to Cabrera (who is 8-for-14 in his career against Lester) in the fifth.Lester went 6 23 innings, giving up four runs on 10 hits with no walks, four strikeouts, and a wild pitch. He threw 120 pitches, 83 for strikes. His ERA went up a tick, from 4.72 to 4.79.The 10 hits were a season high, and the most hes given up since allowing 12 to the White Sox on May 20, 2011. The 120 pitches were his second highest total of the season, after 122 in seven innings to the White Sox in Chicago.Lester was not involved in the decision, and still has yet to beat the Tigers, the only American League club he has not beaten in his career.Still, manager Bobby Valentine thought it was some of Lesters best stuff this season.His curveball was darting. His cutter had the hitters jumping back. His two-seamer was electric. I thought, Valentine said. Its all from the side. But catcher Kelly Shoppach thought it was really good stuff, too. Things didnt go his way. Those three runs, Id say they were a little tainted. He did what he had to do to bow his neck, as they used to say, and put up the zeros. He did a great job.Lesters stuff was so good, it even fooled Valentine. Lester said he really didnt use his cutter that much in the game. Other than that, he agreed with his managers assessment.Lester did not allow a walk, the second time hes accomplished that this season, along with his complete-game win over the Mariners on May 14. Prior to that, he had gone 46 straight starts since the last time he did not issue a walk, on Aug. 14. 2010, at Texas.Felt like I did, Lester said of having his best stuff of the season. It was getting frustrating to have good stuff and get whacked around a little bit. But that being said, more importantly, try to go deep in the game. Guys gave me a chance to win, which is all you can ask for. Bullpen did a great job. Guys swung the bats great. We had some, had a hard time figuring them out early on but the second and third time through we put some good at-bats together and obviously scored some runs. It was big, big team win for us. Thats a big game for us right there.Lester gave up a run in the first and two more in the third, to spot the Tigers a 3-0 lead. After giving up a double to Miguel Cabrera (who is now 8-for-14 in his career against Lester) in the third, the lefty retired 11 of the next 13 batters he faced, except for a Brennan Boesch single leading off the fourth, and another Cabrera with two outs in the fifth.Lester said it had nothing to do with him making adjustments.They just werent hitting it, he said. I just, no adjustments, stuff didnt change, mix didnt change. I think early on they ambushed me a little bit. But, I dont know. Im at a loss for words for trying to figure it out. Like I said, its frustrating for me because when I have stuff like that, it should play a little bit different but theyre a good hitting team, too. So I got to keep making pitches and keep grinding it out, keep figuring it out every day, just keep throwing it.After Gerald Lairds double in the seventh with one out the second hard-hit ball of the inning, but Alex Avila was erased at second on a tremendous throw by left fielder Daniel Nava to second baseman Nick Punto Valentine visited the mound, but left Lester in.He was at his pitch limit, obviously, Valentine said. Two line drives off the center field wall and I just asked him to reach down and get one more out for us. And he said he could do it.Lester did as asked. He struck out Quentin Berry, looking at a 94-mph fastball, then gave way to Matt Albers, who gave up two consecutive singles, including an RBI single to right to Cabrera, tying the game, erasing Lesters win and quality start, and an intentional walk to Fielder before getting Delmon Young to ground out to end the inning.Although Lester was not involved in the decision, the Sox and Albers got the win.

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